The destruction of human embryos in England can be seen as another case of reproductive technology outpacing the law. Research into in-vitro fertilization, while designed to help infertile couples, did not immediately take into account the moral and ethnical questions surrounding the treatment of “spare” embryos.
Britain in fact, was a pioneering nation in the science of in-vitro fertilization, and perhaps it is no surprise that it is the first nation to have to deal with the large-scale destruction of human embryos.
In the light of what has been described as “a prenatal massacre” by the Vatican, a number of countries must now re-examine laws and attitudes regarding human embryos.
In the United States, there is only limited regulation of in-vitro fertilization centres. As reported in the Washington Post recently, an effort to set guidelines for federally-funded embryo research did not progress beyond the National Institutes of Health. Clinics remain free to come up with their own systems for dealing with longer-term storage of human embryos.
It’s a pattern similar to the Canadian example, where self-policing guidelines on new reproductive research were only recently replaced by the introduction of federal legislation. To date, however, Canada has no specific law governing storage of human embryos.
The treatment of human embryos also has implications for marriage and divorce law. A 1992 Tennessee case highlighted another gap in current legislation when a divorced couple got into a custody battle over seven frozen embryos. The wife wanted implantation and a child, while the husband was opposed. The Tennessee Supreme Court eventually back the husband’s position, arguing that a man cannot be forced to father a child against his will. As a result, the seven embryos in questions were destroyed.
But while governments the world over look for answers, Health Canada has made an appeal to Canadians for input into embryo storage. A senior policy analyst with Health Canada recently invited Canadians to forward their comments on the matter to the federal government.
Canadians have until September 30 to contact the health department with their views. The government says it will consider the views of ordinary Canadians before bringing in legislation to regulate fertility clinics.
Health Canada claims it is seeking input from Canadians in response to June, 1996 position paper, and not as a result of the massive embryo destruction in Britain last month.
Whatever the motives, the Health Canada initiative represents an opportunity for pro-life, pro-family Canadians to let the federal government know where they stand on this important life issue. A strong response could help prevent the British situation from being repeated in this country.