Ireland Supreme Court Rules Unborn Children Not Persons in Fertility Clinic Case

International   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Dec 16, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Ireland Supreme Court Rules Unborn Children Not Persons in Fertility Clinic Case

by Steven Ertelt Editor
December 16
, 2009

Dublin, Ireland ( — The Ireland Supreme Court has ruled that human embryos — unborn children just days after conception — are not persons. The ruling came in a case involving a woman who wanted to implant the embryos and give birth to the children despite the wishes of her estranged husband.

Mary and Thomas Roche underwent in-vitro fertilization treatment in 2001 and the couple originally went to court in 2006 to decide the fate of the embryos, unique unborn children, who are stored in a fertility clinic in Rathgar.

The couple had already had children and the mother was left unable to have more after an operation to remove a cyst on her ovary led to the removal of most of that ovary.

After the surgery, the couple underwent in-vitro fertilization and six human embryos were produced in 2002. Three were successfully implanted and she gave birth as a result. The three remaining embryos were at the center of the dispute as Thomas Roche had refused permission for the implantation.

The five judges on the Ireland Supreme Court ruled, despite the clear pro-life protections for unborn children in the nation’s Constitution, that embryos do not enjoy that protection.

Article 40.3.3 of the Ireland Constitution says, "The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother." However, the court ruled the embryos are not "unborn children."

The ruling had drawn condemnation from several Ireland-based and British pro-life groups.

The Pro-Life Campaign expressed disappointment with the Supreme Court decision.

Dr Berry Kiely of the Pro-Life Campaign told, "The Government must introduce legislation to protect human life at its earliest stages of development. The human embryo is not potential life – it is human life with potential. Each one of us passed through this early stage of life on our way to birth."

"The fact that the Supreme Court ruled that the human embryo does not enjoy protection under Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution in no way impedes the Government from introducing legislation to protect early human life," he explained. "There is precedent for such legislation in countries like Italy and Germany where protections for the human embryo were introduced despite there being no explicit Constitutional protection in those countries for human life at its fragile beginnings."

"The unfolding debate is not about those in favor of research pitched in ideological battle against those opposed to scientific advances. Pro-life supporters are just as enthusiastic about the promise of finding treatments for infertility and cures for diseases, but strongly believe this can be achieved without recourse to the taking of human life," he added.

Pat Buckley, Ireland spokesman for SPUC, a U.K. pro-life group, said the court’s interpretation was wrong and contrary to international human rights law.

"The judges’ interpretation of article 40.3.3 excluding human embryos from protection is wrong. This decision treats human embryos as if they are mere property, when in fact they are equal members of the human family," he said.

"International human rights law does not exclude human embryos from the equal right to life upheld in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other human rights instruments. There is no genetic difference between an embryo inside or outside the body. The right to life, which is inalienable, does not change according to location," he added.

The court also found there was no enforceable contract between the woman and her estranged husband entitling her to use the embryos.

It also said Irish political leaders need to do more to regulate the fertility clinic industry.

The latest polling research on the issue shows a substantial majority of the public support enshrining protections for the human embryo in law.

In January 2009, Millward Brown IMS carried out research on a quota controlled sample of 943 people aged over 18. Some 71% of those who expressed an opinion support a law protecting the human embryo and 29% are opposed to it.

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