Does Costa Rica’s in vitro ban clash with its reputation as a civil liberties leader?

May 5, 2015

Costa Rica, a nation that takes pride in its respect for civil liberties, is being sued for failing to lift a ban on in vitro fertilization (IVF), as it remains the only country in the Americas that prohibits the procedure.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) said on Monday it will take Costa Rica to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights for not legalizing IVF after the commission twice extended its previous deadline for the country to do so.

The filing of the case sparked a verbal backlash against the legalization of the procedure from one of the Catholic Church’s leading representatives, Mexican Cardinal Francisco Robles, who gave a poignant sermon in support of the sanctity of life and criticizing the destruction of human embryos in gestation during the annual celebration of romería, an annual pilgrimage in honor of Costa Rica’s patron saint La Negrita (see story on Page 1).

A representative from the IACHR declined to comment on the case Wednesday until an official statement is released.

In vitro fertilization was banned in Costa Rica in 2000 under pressure from the Catholic Church. Some couples have taken their cases to the Inter-American Commission which is based in Washington, D.C. and 50 couples have joined to file the petition.

President Laura Chinchilla has made efforts to prevent the case from reaching the court, but she was met with sluggish action on the part of Costa Rican lawmakers.

The country’s new foreign minister, Enrique Castillo, told the daily La Nación that he believes “the prestige of Costa Rica will not be affected by the case, because everyone knows that assisted fertilization is controversial.”

A bill that would have lifted the ban was killed by lawmakers on June 14 because some evangelical officials oppose IVF while others said the bill was too conservative and did not protect women’s rights.

Miguel Yamuni and his wife Ileana Henchoz are two complainants in the case, and they said they brought the case to an international level because “locally the doors are closed at all courts.”

“There were women who because of the delay that occurred in this process definitely lost the ability to reproduce and for them the damage has been very costly. There were other couples who went to Panama [to undergo IVF] and had the possibility of having a child,” said a lawyer for several of the couples, Gerardo Trejos.

A doctor who performs IVF in Costa Rica can face criminal charges because in 2000 the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court established that fertilized embryos, even before implantation, should be considered people and cannot be discarded.

President Chinchilla has promised to work with lawmakers on a new bill that would legalize the procedure. On Tuesday, Chinchilla said that while she respects the sentiment and views of the Pope and his representatives in Latin America, she would abide by the decision of the Legislative Assembly. A text of a law that would legalize IVF is currently being discussed in the Assembly.

IVF requires that many eggs be fertilized and then the most viable embryos are selected and frozen. The rest are often donated are discarded.

In June the Roman Catholic Church launched a media campaign to denounce IVF as “homicide,” but the government ordered the campaign to be halted (TT, July 1).

Tico Times reporter Will Ferguson contributed to this report.

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