The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) [official website] on Monday filed suit [press release, in Spanish] in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights [official website, in Spanish] to challenge Costa Rica's longstanding ban on in vitro fertilization (IVF) [Medline backgrounder]. The suit will be filed on behalf of 50 Costa Rican couples [AFP report] who have had to seek IVF procedures in other countries as a result of the ban. The Supreme Court of Justice of Costa Rica [official website, in Spanish] banned IVF [judgment text, in Spanish] in 2000, declaring the practice unconstitutional because it violates an embryo's right to life. As a member of the IACHR, Costa Rica is bound by treaty expectations to follow any ruling they make. Last fall, the IACHR ruled in a separate case that IVF was a human right and that Costa Rica had to legalize it. The nation, since then, has received two extensions to legalize the medical procedure. In April, the IACHR threatened international penalties if the order was not followed, which is what this suit will determine. President Laura Chinchilla attempted to legalize IVF in June, but her bill was narrowly defeated. The Costa Rican government, nonetheless, plans to defend the law.
IVF is a type of fertility treatment for couples who have had difficulty conceiving children. Through IVF, a woman's eggs are removed and fertilized outside the body. Successfully fertilized embryos are then implanted into the woman for gestation. The rest are frozen or discarded, which the Catholic Church, Costa Rica and other organizations see as destruction of human life. Costa Rica is the only Western nation that bans the practice and has been under increasing criticism for that ruling. Although the nation is known for a progressive human rights and civil liberties record, the government usually holds to the Catholic Church's edicts on many social issues. Last August, the Supreme Court of Costa Rica ruled 5-2 to disallow a nationwide referendum [JURIST report] on whether to recognize same-sex civil unions [JURIST news archive]. The referendum was to be on the ballot during the December municipal elections after qualifying for the ballot through a petition.