The question of human embryo status comes before the European Court

Publié le : 20 December 2013

 In the coming months, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) must voice its opinion on an issue* that challenges human embryo status.    

The facts are as follows: in 2002, a 48 year-old woman with endometriosis underwent MAP (medically assisted procreation) with her husband. Five embryos were conceived "in vitro" and "then frozen for future implantation". Upon the death of her husband in 2003, the applicant no longer wished to continue the MAP process. Her embryos have been frozen ever since. In 2004, a law passed in Italy "essentially prohibited the destruction of human embryos ‘in vitro’ ". The applicant, who wanted to destroy the embryos by donating them for research, appealed to the ECHR claiming "her right to ownership of the human embryos (Art. 1 of Protocol No. 1) and the law protecting private and family life (Art. 8)". 
In a forum, Grégor Puppinck, Director of the European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ), commented on this matter and pointed out that a human embryo is a "subject" as opposed to an "object". However, "citing violation of ownership law involves denying human embryos ‘subject’ status and qualifying them as ‘objects‘ " he explained.            
Authorised to submit written observations to the ECHR, the ECLJ emphasised that:
– this law, approved in Italy, has been adopted for two reasons: "to set ethical standards" and "to put an end to what was hitherto known as ‘the reproductive far-West’ ".    
– in the 2004 law, the ltalian Government recognised that ‘in vitro’ human embryos have ‘subject’ status in the same way as other ‘subjects involved’ in MAP and are guaranteed a right to life – hence the ban on the voluntary destruction of conceived embryos and the freezing of those that have not (yet) been implanted".  
– The ECHR stipulates that the Convention protects "the embryo or foetus as soon as domestic law affords them this protection". This applies in this instance.          
– The mother’s wish to donate the "embryos to science to further the progress of medicine […] cannot justify the destruction of embryos ‘in vitro’‘" in that this is contested by "judicial precedent, namely the pre-eminence of human beings over the interest of science and society".   
– "The existence of a virtual consensus" within European States that largely authorise "destructive embryo research is not intended to generate a conventional obligation to legalise this kind of practice". This "obligation would not carry any weight in the Convention itself". 
Consequently, "since Italian legislation has recognised that embryos have "subject" status and "given the pre-eminence of human beings, it is impossible to grant the applicant’s requests".  
* Parillo v. Italy – No. 46470/11

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