Co-authored with Tyler Ament

WASHINGTON, April 27, 2011 (C-FAM) – Costa Rica must legalize in vitro fertilization or face penalties for alleged violations of human rights protected by international law, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. 

In 2000, the Costa Rican Constitutional Court ruled that IVF in the country was unconstitutional because it violated the right to life of the embryo.  Four years later, the Center for Reproductive Rights petitioned the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to accept a case claiming that the human rights of two Costa Rican couples were violated by the ban.

The Commission took up the case last fall and asked the government of Costa Rica to legalize IVF, which the Commission claims is necessary to comply with the American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR). 

According to excerpts of the Commission’s report obtained by the Costa Rican press, the Commission decided that the government’s ban on IVF invaded the privacy of families and also invaded the right to “found a family according to their own desires and aspirations.”

The report criticized Costa Rica for being the only country in the Americas to have prohibited IVF, and claimed that the government’s purpose in protecting human life resulted in restrictions that were too “severe.”

The Costa Rican government had argued to the Commission that Article 4 of the ACHR would justify banning IVF since it states that every person’s right to life “shall be protected by law and, in general, from the moment of conception.”  The Costa Rican Constitution takes this principle further, saying that “human life is inviolable” and the Costa Rican Civil Code protects life from “300 days before birth.”

Although Costa Rica initially defended the ban, the country has now proposed a bill to legalize IVF but with severe restrictions.  The proposed bill limits to six the number of embryos that can be created and mandates that all created embryos be implanted. This has not made the Center for Reproductive Rights happy. The Costa Rican government has not moved forward on the bill, prompting the Commission to extend the deadline to May 31. 

Martha de Casco, a former Deputy Foreign Minister for Honduras, says that IVF is “basically a business that takes advantage of those who believe they can achieve something good, like a child, regardless of how it is accomplished.” She also said that the international pressure on Costa Rica is evidence of a desire to turn Costa Rica into a haven for cheap IVF, since it is an expensive procedure in developed countries. 

Although many accounts have characterized the Commission’s report as requiring Costa Rica to change its laws, the Commission is an advisory body whose recommendations are not binding on states.  If a state does not comply with a Commission recommendation, the Commission has the option to bring the case before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which is tasked with interpreting and enforcing the ACHR.

Reprinted with permission from