Frozen, in vitro embryos don’t have rights: Court

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Frozen, in vitro embryos don’t have rights: Court

A human embryo created during artificial fertility treatments can’t be viewed as a human entity and thus doesn’t possess basic human rights under the Korean Constitution, according to a ruling by the Constitutional Court of Korea yesterday.

The court’s judges unanimously upheld an existing law which allows the use of leftover embryos from fertility treatments for medical research, and also their destruction. The law also requires fertility clinics to dispose of frozen embryos five years after the in vitro fertilization so clinics don’t amass huge stockpiles, which they may use inappropriately.

The ruling only covers embryos that have not been implanted into a woman’s womb.

Under current Korean law, killing an embryo after it is implanted into a womb is illegal.

“Although an embryo already implanted into a mother’s womb can be seen as a human entity with potential to grow, it is hard to see one that isn’t implanted as a human entity,” the court stated in its ruling.

It added that the creation of residual embryos during fertility treatment is unavoidable and that it upholds the current bioethics law regarding their usage and disposal.

With this, the court dismissed a constitutional appeal submitted by a group of 13 petitioners that argued that using embryos made for the purpose of in vitro fertilization for medical research or disposing of them violates their basic human right to life. A married couple filed a suit with the court back in 2005, and were joined afterward by 11 other petitioners, including doctors, professors, a student, philosopher and experts in clinical research and the law.

Also yesterday, the court ruled that there was no legal relation, or rights to the embryo, for the male and female who provided the sperm and egg to create it.

However, the court said, if embryos are used for research purposes, approval must be given by the people who provided the sperm and eggs. It added that the providers have the right to cancel their approval anytime before the research starts.

On disposal of embryos, the court reaffirmed that frozen embryos left over from fertility treatments must be destroyed after five years and that hospitals or clinics do not need the approval of sperm or egg providers to do so.

“If there is no expiration period for storing frozen embryos, there is a chance that they might be used for inappropriate research purposes,” the court said, adding that the same time frame is used in Britain and France.

“This is the first time that the Constitutional Court has made a legal assessment on whether to look at early-stage embryos as human entities,” said Noh Hui-beom, an information officer at the Constitutional Court.

Following the ruling, stem cell-related stocks surged on the local market. Local biotech firms CHA Bio and Diostech Company and Innocell reached the daily limit yesterday while biotech company Sansung P&C rose 7.6 percent.

By Cho Jae-eun, Choe Sun-uk []
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