Harney to draft new fertility law

  • Niall Hunter, Editor

Health Minister Mary Harney is to finally draw up long-awaited legislation on assited human reproduction in the wake of yesterday's "frozen embryo" ruling.

The Supreme Court yesterday ruled that frozen human embryos are not protected by the unborn right to life provisions in the Constitution.

The Court said the term "unborn" only applies to embryos when they are implanted in the womb. It rejected an appeal by a woman, Mary Roche, who sought to have three frozen embryos created with her husband during fertility treatment released to her for implantation.

The Government came in for strong criticism from the Court for its continuing failure to bring in laws to regulate fertility treatment. Now, Health Minister Mary Harney has said she will bring proposals to Government next year on legislating for assisted reproduction.

However, the Minister told the Oireachtas Health Committee back in 2006 that she had asked her Department to prepare legislation on this issue.

She said at the time that work on the new law would proceed in a way that was mindful of any development in the courts on relevant constitutional issues.

The Supreme Court was ruling yesterday on a 2006 High Court decision which ruled that the embryos were not "unborn" under the relevant Constitutional provisions and that there was no agreement between Ms Roche and her husband on what should be done with the embryos.

It was felt that a Supteme Ciurt decision that an in implanted embryo had the same right to life as an embryo formed under more natural circumstances would have had profound effects on fertility treamtent in Ireland.

It was felt that such a ruling could have led to some infertility services being no longer made available.

The ruling also removes any perceived threat to the legality of contraceptive methods such as the morning-after pill.

The lack of regulation of assisted reproduction, the Supreme Court felt, meant Ireland could become by default an unregulated environment for practices which may prove controversial or, at least give rise to the need for regulation.

At present, due to the lack of regulation, there would technically be nothing to stop someone setting up a clinic to carry out human reproductive cloning.

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