I’m going to pull away from that extremely lively discussion of surrogacy (always a fascinating topic) to talk a bit about another story that caught my eye a while back. At the end of August the European Court of Human Rights found that Italy violated the rights of a couple carrying cystic fibrosis when it refused to allow them to do PIGD. (We’ve talked about PIGD before on the blog. It is pre-implantation genetic diagnosis and it allows you those doing IVF to screen pre-embryos before they are transferred into a woman’s uterus.) To put this slightly differently–the court ruled that the couple had a right to screen the pre-embryos before transfer.
Italy is one of three European countries (the others are Austria and Switzerland) that ban use PGID. The ban is justified as being necessary to protect the health of the mother (not a justification that I can understand) and to prevent eugenic abuses. (Of course, the ban might also be seen to be consistent with Catholic doctrine, but remember that IVF itself is impermissible under that doctrine.)
Curiously, Italian law would have permitted the couple to get an abortion if the mother were carrying a child who would have CF. Once you add this into the mix it seems to me the ruling of the European court is unsurprising. Essentially Italy would permit the couple to select against the CF carrying embryo, but it insists that the selection be made at a later time. There’s nothing (to my mind) good about doing this later rather than sooner.
Apart from the oddity of Italian law, though, it seems to me the case can be read to frame a larger issue. Even if Italy did not permit abortion, does the couple have some right to do PGID? To say no, it seems to me, is to say that if they want to have a genetically related child they must bear the risk that the child will have CF. Particularly if the genetic relationship is important to you (and it’s less important to me than it is to many readers) this seems a terrible burden to place on them–especially when there is an alternative.
Perhaps it is wrong to couch this in terms of rights, at least to the extent that it would require me to go and read the European Charter and so on. Maybe I should frame the question this way: Should the law allow a couple like the one here to use PGID? It seems clear to me that it should.
There’s another point the case highlighted for me. If you accept that a woman has a right to elect an abortion (and of course I know that not everyone does), then it makes no sense to oppose PGID. I don’t know that I’d seen this quite so starkly before, but surely this case makes that point, too.