Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Right to Life of the Human Embryo

A serious challenge has arisen in an appeal to the Irish Supreme Court in respect of the right to life of three unimplanted human embryos. Irish Times article

In a statement to the Supreme court considering the fate of the three embryos Mr Donal O’Donnell SC representing the Attorney General and the Irish State, told the court that an embryo is not an “unborn” within the meaning of Article 40.3.3 of the Irish Constitution and that, in his opinion, the destruction of fertilised embryos prior to implantation in a woman’s womb is permitted under law. He also expressed the opinion that it was not the wish of the people, when passing the 1983 pro-life amendment, to protect the pre-implanted embryo.

Ironically Mr O’Donnell is supposed to be representing the interests of the unborn child for the state in a case involving a separated mother of two who was refused leave by the High Court to have the three frozen embryos released to her against the wishes of her estranged husband.

Despite the attempt by Mr O’Donnell to limit the scope of article 40.3.3 to embryos existing “in vivo”, the Irish constitution does not limit the term “unborn” in this way. The State therefore should not introduce limitations or try to create artificial divisions between one kind of human embryo and another. To do so constitutes a form of unjust discrimination. Once an embryo is brought into existence in whatever way this occurs a new human being exists and must be protected by law from that time.

It is also hard to understand why Mr. O’Donnell saw fit to make this statement on behalf of the Attorney General and the Irish State, when the Irish people by referendum rejected an amendment to the Constitution to limit legal protection to the child implanted in the womb, in 2002. Mr O’Donnell’s statement smacks more of an attempt at political compromise than a statement of fact.

The appeal, which is being heard by a panel of 5 Judges, The Hon. Mr. Justice John L. Murray, Chief Justice, The Hon. Mrs. Justice Susan Denham, The Hon. Mr. Justice Adrian Hardiman. The Hon. Mr. Justice Hugh Geoghegan. The Hon. Mr. Justice Nial Fennelly, has been adjourned and will be revisited later this month.