Costa Rica struggling to avoid in vitro penalty

June 24, 2011

Costa Rica’s government began Tuesday to contact couples that reported the country before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) for prohibiting in vitro fertilization. The government hoped to arrange deals that would prevent Costa Rica from enduring possible sanctions from an international tribunal.

Foreign Minister René Castro met with several pairs and the group’s lawyer, Gerardo Trejos, with the goal of reaching an agreement that would help avoid a response by the Inter-American Court of Human Right. Costa Rica is the only country in the Western Hemisphere that bans in vitro fertilization. The country’s powerful Catholic Church considers the practice unethical. But the IACHR sees the prohibition as a violation of human rights.

The government wants to “see the claims of the petitioners,” said Carlos Vargas, the Foreign Ministry’s legal chief. Vargas met with some of the 50 couples who reported the country before the IACHR, based in Washington, D.C.

The complainants proposed Tuesday that government officials present the case directly to the court, which is based in San José, in order to shorten the process.

“Costa Rica would file a case against itself, which is allowed by the [Inter-American] Convention [on Human Rights], and thereby prevent the court from filing a formal case against Costa Rica,” Trejos said.

However, the foreign minister rejected that option for now and said that he trusts that lawmakers will lift the ban before the July 31 deadline, which was set by the commission.

“It is not impossible that in 40 days we [approve] a bill,” Castro said at a recent meeting at the Foreign Ministry.

President Laura Chinchilla eight months ago sent the National Assembly a bill to legalize the medical technique, banned in 2000. Chinchilla’s initiative was shelved last week by legislators in a narrow 26-25 vote.

Some evangelical lawmakers voted against the bill because they oppose any type of artificial fertilization. Others went against the bill because it was too conservative and did not do enough to protect women’s rights.

The IACHR in October 2010 gave a deadline of four months to Costa Rica to legalize in vitro. The deadline has since been extended on multiple occasions (TT, May 31). The latest deadline comes at the end of July, but the Costa Rican lawmakers have a reputation for taking their time on important bills.

In December, Pope Benedict XVI asked Chinchilla, a devout Catholic, “not to violate the right to be born with laws that legitimize in vitro fertilization and abortion,” but the government has until now moved forward with the bill to avoid sanctions.

The court has the power to order Costa Rica’s government to compensate those affected by the ban by an amount that would satisfy the complainants. The lawyer declined to cite a figure.

“I cannot arrive here and irresponsibly petition for money on behalf of the complainants. It is very difficult to convert pain, moral damages, into money,” Trejos said.

“There were women that due to the delays in the process have lost the ability to bear a child,” the lawyer added. “There are other pairs that went to Panama [to undergo in vitro fertilization] in order to have the possibility of having a child.”

Miguel Yamuni, a complainant and his wife Ileana Henchoz, said that they took the cause to the “international level because locally all the judicial doors have been closed.”

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