by Hilary White, Rome Correspondent
BRUSSELS, August 31, 2012, (LifeSiteNews.com) – Legal experts are expressing their concerns over the decision of the European Court of Human Rights this month that Italy’s law against eugenic screening of embryos conceived by in vitro fertilization must be overturned. The Strasbourg-based court said that Italy’s prohibition of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) was “incoherent” in the face of existing laws allowing abortion for eugenic purposes. It awarded a couple who had chosen to abort their child, who was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, 15,000 Euros.
Italian commentators have pointed out that the court’s ruling shows a predisposition to accept eugenic abortion as the default legal position.
The court, said Rome-based biologist and ethicist Enzo Pennetta, revealed its presumptive bias by ruling that the conflict must be resolved by changing the IVF law to coincide with the abortion law, not the other way around.
The European Centre for Law and Justice intervened in the case as an amicus curiae brief and submitted written observations. Gregor Puppinck, the head of the ECLJ wrote that the court had created a new “right” out of whole cloth.
The court said that the “wish” to have a healthy child “constitutes an aspect of their private and family life and comes under the protection of Article 8” of the European Convention on Human Rights. Therefore the law prohibiting PGD gives the applicants the status of “victims” and infringes their rights—which, for the ECHR, includes a “right to give birth to a child who does not suffer from the disease they are carriers of.”
In plain language, Puppinck wrote, this means that the court has declared that the “wish to have a child free from the disease constitutes a right, which imposes obligations to the State.”
“Identifying a wish with a right reveals a conception of human rights as a projection of the individual will in the social order,” Puppinck added. The ruling effectively creates “a right not to transmit bad genes, a right to eugenics.”
Moreover, he said, the ruling vastly oversteps the statutory limits of the ECHR’s jurisdiction. By claiming that the case rests upon the “incoherence” of two contradictory domestic laws, neither of which contravene the Convention, “the control of the European Court thus goes very far.”
The matter, however, may not be settled, and the ECLJ is asking that the case be referred to the next stage of the Grand Chamber.
In another case before the ECHR, a Latvian mother of a child with Down syndrome is arguing that her rights were violated when she was not offered genetic screening to help her decide whether to abort her daughter. ECLJ said in its submission to the court that the question behind the complaint is, “Does the Convention guarantee a right to eugenics for parents, and in particular to the procedure of prenatal screening-elimination of sick or disabled fetuses? If so, does the State have a positive obligation in this regard?”
The ECLJ hosted a meeting of disability organisations in June, which issued a declaration stating that “eugenics is not a human right”. The meeting, Puppinck said, was “intended to raise the awareness of institutions about the eugenic current of European society”..\
Puppinck told CNS News, “People with disabilities, like other categories of people in other times, today have an obligation to demonstrate their humanity in order to enjoy the protection of human rights.”
Following the meeting, Italian legislator Luca Volonte brought forward a motion for a resolution, “Combating eugenics and discrimination against people with disabilities,” in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). The motion says that people with disabilities are still experiencing discrimination in their daily lives, they are “perceived and treated differently, being considered as inferior.” Particularly people with genetic disabilities, like Down syndrome, suffer from a resurgence of a “eugenic ideology, which considers their very existence as a medical error.”
“Eugenics is a reality in countries where prenatal screening has become systematic, in turn leading to the stigmatization of persons with genetic disability and their families, in particular those with Down syndrome.”
The motion proposes that the PACE adopt as policy the affirmation “that every human being has the inherent right to life and…to ensure its effective enjoyment by persons with disabilities on an equal basis with others, as required, inter alia, by the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.”
The PACE will discuss the motion in the upcoming months, and according to the normal protocols will designate a Rapporteur in charge of drafting a comprehensive report on the issue, and eventually vote a Resolution and a Recommendation.