Ruling due in fertility case involving embryos of estranged couple

THE Supreme Court is due to rule today on an appeal by a woman in her 40s against the High Court’s refusal to order a Dublin fertility clinic to release three frozenembryos to her for the purpose of pregnancy against her estranged husband’s wishes.

The Irish Stem Cell Foundation believes the decision is likely to clarify the legal definition of the word “unborn” as used in the Irish Constitution – and therefore have implications for many branches of medicine and research including assisted fertility treatments and stem cell research.

Ireland is one of three EU states with no regulation of infertility services. The others are Poland and Romania. The only guidance available to clinicians are the Medical Council’s ethical guidelines.

Yesterday, a statement from the Medical Council said it was required, in accordance with the Medical Practitioners Act 2007, to “specify standards of practice for registered medical practitioners” and to this end, the council had published the Guide to Professional Conduct and Ethics for Registered Medical Practitioners 7th Edition on November 13 last.

However, it said the council was “exercised by the current lack of legislation in relation to assisted human reproduction”. The statement said the council intends to develop, in consultation with relevant stakeholders, “further comprehensive guidelines relating to assisted human reproduction (AHR)”.

The Supreme Court has already described as “extraordinary” the failure of Government to take any steps to enact laws to regulate fertility treatment here.

Mr Justice Hugh Geoghegan has said it would be “highly desirable” for these matters to be addressed in legislation.

A statement from the Department of Health said the development and use of AHR technologies “raises legal, social and ethical issues that are complex and profound”.

It said the department is developing proposals for an appropriate regulatory framework, including legislation, in respect of AHR.

“The work involves, among other things, examining the approaches to regulation in other jurisdictions and considering the ethical and legal issues that arise. It will also take into account any report by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children in response to the referral to it in 2005 of the Report of the Commission on Assisted Human Reproduction and the forthcoming judgment of the Supreme Court in the RvR (frozen embryos) case.”


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