Irish doctor with too many thoughts, too little time and a blog that's supposed to check in on reality.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Irish Courts Will Have to Decide Who Owns Human Life

Yesterday’s Irish Independent reports on a case similar to the Johnson-Evans case last week in the UK.
An unnamed Irish couple are currently wrangling over their frozen embryos, created as a part of IVF treatment. They have since separated but the woman/mother wants to go ahead and implant the embryos, and hopefully give birth to them, while the man/father says no.
This sort of case is becoming increasingly prevalent and just seems so heartbreaking.
Fundamental questions need to be asked here, though.
Both parents consented to have the embryos created. The embryos are human embryos. They are humans that exist, suspended in a vial in liquid nitrogen in Rathgar. Hardly a dignified habitat and certainly not one we readily associate with the human condition – but they are human nonetheless. They’re certainly tiny but genetically complete humans with growth potential to become bigger humans.
It is very difficult to argue that embryos are not unborn, as per the constitutional definition – they have not passed through the final rite of birth – but yet they exist, and in the natural history/timecourse of their lives, birth is a future event. They are humans without birth (“gan breithe”) who need a change in their environment (implantation) to reach birth.
Are frozen human embryos less deserving of life, simply because they are suspended unnaturally at a fixed point in their life? Or because so many do not survive the unfreezing process? (40-70% don’t)
Who owns these human embryos? Who has the right to terminate their existence when they live in glass jars? The parents?
The mother, as is traditionally determined in cases of abortion – it is her physical relationship that allows her to make that decision. The father, a bystander in too many cases of unexpected pregnancy, now has a right to demand that children he created be destroyed because he doesn’t want fatherhood.
Has the state a right to compel someone to become a parent? But are they not already parents?
No reasonable person would argue that after a break up of a relationship that the father has a right to make his pregnant girlfriend abort, simply because he no longer wants fatherhood.
Should parents be allowed to renegade on the commitment they made when they created the embryos?  Are you allowed to withdraw consent for parenthood? Can you change your mind after new life has been created?
This case will bring back the questions of life’s beginning to the fore of public debate. The CAHR report will again be discussed. Legislation or referenda will again be mooted as possible solutions.
All these are important debates that have not yet been fully resolved. But in reality, human beings are created as a result of IVF. Perhaps the simplest solution would be follow in line with other countries like Italy or Germany, and only create as many embryos as will be implanted.
This would prevent cases like this. It would prevent the dilemmas faced by clinics with freezers full of embryos – some wanted, some waiting and more forgotten about  and languishing until the 5 year deadline is passed.
As for the case at hand, I really have no idea – I believe in character and that decisions over such important things as creating new people should be taken seriously – and that commitments such as this can not be readily dismissed, simply because one has “moved on”.
Human life is not a commodity – our humanity is not conditional on whether we are wanted or not. Those embryos have humanity, even if they have a father who wants nothing to do with them.
The Irish Independent provides Yes and No columns on this case.



Blogger fatmammycat said...

I have 2 questions. Will the father be legally bound to provide finacially for the child-should it be born- for eighteen years, even though he does not want it?
Why does the mother want to have a child with a person with whom she has no realtionship with?
By the way, the egg I lose with every period has humanity too, but it is not a person. Surely this embryo, since it has no host, is not a human just yet.

March 16, 2006 7:11 p.m.  

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