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 CNS Story:

COSTARICA-INVITRO Dec-17-2010 (810 words) xxxi

Costa Rica under pressure to lift ban on in vitro fertilization

By Chrissie Long
Catholic News Service

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (CNS) -- Costa Rica is under pressure to overturn its ban on in vitro fertilization -- and as a result abandon long-held Catholic teaching -- or risk sanctions for violating international accords on human rights.

The threat of sanctions has led Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla to pursue legislation that will make the reproductive procedure legal even at the risk of offending the Catholic Church.

The dilemma arose in August when the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights asked Costa Rica to reverse the IVF ban so that it would comply with international accords to which it is a signatory such as the American Convention on Human Rights, the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the Cairo Program of Action of the United Nations International Conference on Population and Development.

One of only a handful of nations that professes Catholicism as its official religion, Costa Rica has an accord with the Catholic Church that "expressly recognizes the value of human life from conception."

In early December, Pope Benedict XVI warned the Fernando Sanchez, the Costa Rican ambassador to the Vatican, against "violating the rights of an unborn child with laws that legitimize in vitro fertilization."

Legislative debate on the bill was expected to begin in mid-December.

"It puts Costa Rica in a difficult situation," said lawmaker Oscar Alfaro, who will oversee debate in the country's Legislative Assembly. "It's a sensitive issue in our society in which both religious and scientific factors need to be considered."

Dr. Ariel Perez, who prepares Costa Rican women to undergo IVF outside of the country, said that statistics on the procedure show that about 30 percent of fertilized eggs result in a child. The remaining 70 percent of fertilized eggs are either frozen for later use or discarded, he said.

For Sonia Cordero, 38, a Costa Rican who had to fight for the life of her daughter during a difficult pregnancy that kept her bedridden for months, the thought of more lives being lost is enough to oppose IVF.

"As a mother who was told that I won't be able to have a baby, I understand women who want the treatment. But the pain of losing more babies in the process of trying to make a life is a price too high to pay," she said.

Maureen Bonilla, disagreed, saying that every woman should have the right to experience motherhood.

"Adoption is not the same as feeling a baby grow inside your body," she said. "It's a beautiful experience."

Bonilla, who is pregnant with her second child, added, "The Catholic Church might say they are against in vitro because it's not natural or it's against God's will. However, I believe that if it's not God's will, he would not give humanity the opportunity to experience motherhood in other ways."

She paused for a moment, frowned and added, "It's hard because I am Catholic."

Such hesitation has gripped many Costa Ricans, including the country's leaders.

While their Catholic upbringing has led them to value the sanctity of life, the procedure has become so widespread around the world that some question why Costa Ricans are still watching from the sidelines.

Since the first successful birth of a "test tube" baby in 1978, more than 4 million people have been born through the procedure. The founder of the procedure, Robert Edwards, was recognized with a Nobel Prize for Medicine in October. And while most of the world has seemingly overcome ethical qualms, Costa Rica maintains its prohibition.

In 2000, Costa Rica's Constitutional Court ruled that IVF violates human dignity. Echoing church teaching, judges said that children should be conceived naturally and any manipulation is morally unacceptable.

In 2008, after exhausting all opportunities for appeal in the Costa Rican court system, a handful of infertile couples rallied before the Washington-based Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an entity of the Organization of American States. The asked for help in protecting their reproductive rights.

The human rights commission responded with a memo in August to Costa Rican leaders reminding the country of its international commitments and asking government officials to lift the ban.

According to informal surveys and media reports, the Legislative Assembly is split, with most lawmakers voting on values or personal opinion over allegiance to any political party.

Lawmaker Justo Orozco is determined not to let international organizations dictate Costa Rican law.

"(The commission isn't) respecting the sovereignty of a country," he said. "They are saying that we need to approve this law and if we don't, there will be sanctions. They are imposing their criteria. This is a serious hit to our freedom as a country."

The Legislative Assembly is expected to hear from scientists, religious leaders and social groups in the coming weeks and plans to respond to the human rights commission in early 2011.


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