SAN JOSE, Costa Rica, August 10, 2011 ( – Costa Rica is being sued over its ban on in vitro fertilization after months of pressure from foreign lobby groups to legalize a procedure that normally leads to the death or perpetual freezing of countless human embryos.

The U.S.-based Inter-American Commission on Human Rights announced August 1 that they were taking the Central American nation to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights after legislators failed to legalize IVF by the Commission’s July 31st deadline.

Costa Rica is the only country in the Western hemisphere that bans IVF after its Constitutional Court ruled in 2000 that the practice was unconstitutional because it violated the right to life of the embryo.  IVF had been authorized by executive decree under strict conditions in 1995.

President Laura Chinchilla had proposed a bill earlier this year that would have legalized the deadly procedure, but also would limit the number of embryos created at one time to six, and require that all be implanted.  But her measure was defeated June 14 by the House of Representatives in a vote of 26 to 25.

In June, Costa Rica’s Catholic Church launched a radio campaign denouncing IVF as “homicide” through the church-owned Radio Fides, but the government ordered them to shut it down.

“For a small girl in an advertisement to say that her siblings were killed in a laboratory is discriminatory against people who actually were born from the use of in vitro fertilization,” said José Antonio Pastor, the director of the Public Security Ministry’s Propaganda Control Office.

IVF proponents often claim the procedure does not involve the destruction of children based on a decades-old redefinition that says pregnancy begins when the embryo implants in the uterus rather than when it is created in the process of fertilization.  But embryologists still hold that human life develops along a continuum that begins at fertilization.  At that moment, a single organism is present, its sex is determined, and it carries DNA that is distinct from both mother and father.

In its 2000 ruling, the Constitutional Court said that the IVF procedure put the embryos created at risk of death since multiple embryos are created with the knowledge that only one (in most cases) will survive. 

“The human embryo is a person from the moment of conception … not an object … not to be frozen … not constitutionally legitimate to be exposed to a disproportionate risk of death,” it wrote.

The Commission’s efforts came in response to a petition from the U.S.-based Center for Reproductive Rights.  About 50 Costa Rican couples have joined the case.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has the power to impose sanctions on countries that fail to comply with international human rights law.