Bioethics News

Dignity of the human embryo from fecundation is recognised by the European Court of Human Rights

On 27 August, 2015, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) issued its judgement in the case of Parrillo vs. Italy (Application no. 46470/11), rejecting by 16 to 1 the applicants desire to donate human embryos to be used in biomedical research, an act prohibited by Italian artificial fertilisation law 40/2004.

The applicant had undergone fertility treatment – IVF – in 2002, with the creation of five embryos. However the father died before they could be transferred, so she decided not to continue with the process, but instead to donate the embryos for scientific research and thus “contribute to researching treatment for diseases that are difficult to cure”; in other words, to procure the health of the eventual future beneficiaries of the research, if it was successful, although this would necessarily mean destroying the embryos, i.e. the death of her “extrauterine” children. However, Italian law 40 of 19th February 2004 did not permit this, so after unsuccessfully concluding the entire internal judicial process, she resorted to the ECHR.

The mother alleged the existence of a real right to her embryos and a violation of article 8 of the ECHR, concerning respect for her private life which, in this case, involved destruction of the embryos at the service of science. The ECHR, after reviewing its previous rulings, recalled that human embryos cannot be reduced to “possessions”, for the purposes of the protection sought, and rejected the complaint.

 Dignity of the human embryo: exists from fertilisation itself

This is a major decision, both because of the importance of the ECHR, as a body that sets standards for theEurpean court of human rights protection of human rights for signatory countries of the ECHR, and to consolidate a trend already started in the European judicial framework counter to the consideration of embryos as “things” or objects, lacking in dignity and possible passive subjects of unlimited manipulation.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.