British embryo joint consent ruling stands

An article from BBC News reports that the High Court (one step down from the Court of Appeals in the UK) has let stand a law that calls for consent of both parents when using a frozen embryo.

The case involves two women who are now incapable of bearing children for medical reasons that had previously frozen embryos during infertility treatments with their former boyfriends or husbands. Each of the women want to use the embryos and each of the men want the embryos destroyed.

The article raises some interesting questions on reproductive rights, freedom of choice, and legal and moral issues involving the storage of frozen embryos. One commentator argues that "The irony here is that in a natural conception a woman has absolute rights, but she apparently does not have absolute rights in IVF." While true given the current state of laws in most locations (and certainly in the UK), the woman has absolute rights (to terminate pregnancy, etc.), this has a more practical tie than just the fact that the woman created the egg. The basis for this reality is that the woman must carry the child.

In the case of IVF, the embryos are not currently implanted and they are thus the fruits (equally) of both the mother and the father. From a clinical perspective (and setting aside whether you believe that the embryo is a human being or not), destruction of the embryo is not a medical procedure, does not jeopardize the life of the mother (physically) and theoretically has no more impact on the mother than on the father.

One further interesting possibility in cases like this would be if the father requested the embryo due to a subsequent marriage with someone who is infertile or after the man has become infertile. In this case, the situation is directly analogous to the case brought before the High Court.

Every bit of technology has unexpected twists, and IVF is certainly no exception.