Submission to UN General Discussion on Article 6 (Right to Life)

Submission to UN General Discussion on Article 6 (Right to Life)

Half Day of General Discussion on Article 6 (Right to Life)

SUBMISSION OF THE PRO LIFE CAMPAIGN TO GENERAL DISCUSSION ON ARTICLE 6 (RIGHT TO LIFE) OF THE INTERNATIONAL COVENANT ON CIVIL AND POLITICAL RIGHTS

 

Introduction

Dear Members of the Human Rights Committee,

The Pro Life Campaign of Ireland welcomes the opportunity to make this written submission to the Human Rights Committee on the occasion of its 114th session. This submission aims to contribute to the discussion surrounding the Committee’s preparation for a General Comment on Article 6 (Right to Life) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

About the Pro Life Campaign

The Pro Life Campaign (PLC) is a non-denominational human rights organisation, drawing its support from a cross-section of Irish society. The Campaign promotes pro-life education and defends human life at all stages, from conception to natural death. It also campaigns for resources to support and assist pregnant women and those in need of healing after abortion.

 

  • Context of these Submissions

As an initial observation, the PLC contends that the determination of the limits and existence of physical life is not inherently difficult or shrouded in ambiguity. Nevertheless it is the development of practices such as the freezing of embryos intended for Assisted Human Reproduction or research, abortion, euthanasia and assisted suicide, which have impaired the manner in which physical life itself and its legal protection can coincide in time.

It is in this manner that the explicit protections afforded to human life in various international treaties and documents have, in practical application, become increasingly abstruse. This is particularly the case in societies where the temporal application of the right is not determined by its cause but by an external and subjective decision maker.

Accordingly, since the legalisation of the above mentioned practices, the right to life does not necessarily protect life fully, that is life when considered as an objective reality, but only a part of life. The coherence of the ‘right to life’ and it concurrent protection has fragmented internationally, with the result that extent of the legal protection varies according to the will of various decision makers and individuals within the framework established by different national legislatures.

It is within this context that the Committee has embarked on the preparation of a General Comment regarding the substantive right to life within in accordance with article 40 the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (“ICCPR”).

The PLC notes that the Committee has previously published general comments on article 6 of the ICCPR; namely General Comment Number 6 of 1982 and Number 14 of 1984.

The PLC hopes that the Committee will use this opportunity to reaffirm the protections for unborn life contained in the treaties. Furthermore the PLC encourages the Committee to use this opportunity to state that no ‘right to die’ exists within the framework of international human rights law or treaties.

The Committee has undertaken to publish a General Comment in relation to Article 6 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The PLC will confine its remarks to Article 6 (1) and Article 6(5) which state as follows;

Article 6(1) Every Human Being has the inherent right to life

Article 6(5) Sentence of Death shall not be imposed for crimes committed by persons below the age of eighteen years of age and shall not be carried out on Pregnant Women [emphasis added]

 

  • Note on Interpretation:

It is submitted that conventions such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (hereafter the “ICCPR”) must be interpreted according to the internationally recognised rules of treaty interpretation, as contained in the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties  (VCLT).

The primary rule of interpretation of a treaty is the “ordinary meaning rule” of VCLT article 31 (1):

“A treaty shall be interpreted in good faith in accordance with the ordinary meaning to be given to the terms of the treaty in their context and in light        of its object or purpose”

The VCLT makes clear            that where an interpretation of the text is reached under the ordinary meaning rule,            legislative records are            to be used only to confirm that reading.  Preparatory work or legislative history is only to be used to interpret the meaning of a text where it is impossible to arrive at an interpretation under the ordinary meaning rule.

 

  • The Right to life of the Unborn Child

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

All modern human rights treaties originate in the 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights according to which “everyone has the right to life, liberty and the security of person”. Nothing was specified as to the beginning or end of life.

The ICCPR was intended to implement the Universal Declaration aspirations, and as such Article 6 encompasses the aim of protecting human life.

Crucially, there is no attempt to exclude any developmental phase of human life from the protections set out at Article 6, concordantly there is no mention of abortion or of the exclusion of the unborn from the protection of right to life in this Article.

Furthermore it should be noted that Article 6 (5) states that a death sentence “shall not be carried out on pregnant women”. It is submitted that the inclusion of a provision that a death sentence shall not be carried out on a pregnant woman is an implicit recognition that the life of the unborn child she carried has value and is worthy of protection.

When the provisions at Article 6 are read in conjunction with the preamble of the ICCPR, which speaks of the “rights of all members of the human family … [which] derive from the inherent dignity of the human person” it supports the contention that the treaty protects not only human beings during the pre-natal period of life under paragraph (5), it protects them as holders of human rights.

It is respectfully submitted that using the ordinary meaning rule of the VCLT to interpret the ICCPR, unborn children are members of the human family as provided in the preamble, a conclusion that is supported by the implicit right to life of the unborn child under paragraph 5 of Article 6.

In light of the foregoing, the Right to Life in the text of the ICCPR should be interpreted broadly. The Covenant’s Prohibition of the Death Penalty for Pregnant Women Implicitly Recognises the Right to Life of the Unborn

As the travaux préparatoires of the ICCPR explicitly state, “The principal reason for providing in paragraph 4 [now Article 6(5)] of the original text that the death sentence should not be carried out on pregnant women was to save the life of an innocent unborn child.”  Similarly, the Secretary-General report of 1955 notes that the intention of the paragraph “was inspired by humanitarian considerations and by consideration for the interests of the unborn child…”

Nevertheless, it is regrettably noted that this Committee, in its 2008 concluding observations regarding Ireland, expressed “concern regarding the highly restrictive circumstances under which women can lawfully have an abortion.” To remedy this, the Committee suggested that Ireland “should bring its abortion laws into line with the Covenant.”

These observations were arrived at without any apparent supporting references to the explicit protections afforded to human life in the text of the ICCPR. Further, the Committee has ignored the implicit references to pre-natal life at Article 6.5.

This is to be regretted, in particular, as the observations of the Committee and its demand for State Party compliance in this regard, lack a legal basis in the provisions of the ICCPR.

Convention on the Rights of the Child

The Convention on the Rights of the Child encompasses an explicit protection for the rights of the unborn child.

The Preamble of the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) reiterated a provision of the Declaration of the Rights of the Child of 1959, declaring as follows;

“[T]he child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth.”

Therefore it can be seen that the preamble of the Convention on the Rights of the Child explicitly recognizes the right to life of the unborn. According to the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (VCLT), the preamble of a treaty provides necessary interpretive context.

The preamble to the CRC explicitly recognizes the child before birth as a rights bearing person entitled to special need and protection.

Additionally Article 1 of the CRC states as follows:

For the purposes of this Convention,  a child            means            every human being below the age of 18 years unless, under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier.   

When   Article 1 and the text of the preamble cited above are read together in context and with regard to the ordinary meaning rule of the VCLT, the logical interpretation is that the unborn child is   included as a  human being under the CRC.

Furthermore, Article 24 of the CRC covers the right to health of the child, and reads in part:

  1. States Parties recognize the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health and to facilities for the treatment of illness and rehabilitation of health. States Parties shall strive to ensure that no child is deprived of his or her right of access to such health care services.
  2. States Parties shall pursue full implementation of this right and, in particular, shall take appropriate measures:

(d) To ensure appropriate pre-natal and post-natal health care for mothers; [Emphasis added]

It is submitted that this article obligates the State to ensure pre-natal care, which is included as a component to the right to health of the child. Since pre-natal care by definition only applies before birth, children prior to birth have rights under the CRC.

Irish Constitutional position warrants deference

As noted above, regrettably, the Human Rights Committee has consistently criticised Ireland for not expanding the availability of abortion.

Pressure to change Irish law in this area should not proceed on the basis that there is a ‘right’ to abortion,

The protections accorded under Irish domestic law to the right to life of the unborn child were based on the profound moral and ethical values expressed by the people of Ireland in three referenda.

The provisions of the Irish Constitution at Article 40.3.3:

“The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.”

It is submitted that constitutional provisions such as those set out in the Irish Constitution, cited above, warrant considerable deference from human rights courts and treaty monitoring bodies.

In ‘A, B and C v Ireland [2010]’  the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights reiterated its consistent jurisprudence that the question of the legal protection of the right to life of the unborn child fell within the States’ margin of appreciation under the ECHR as follows;

“Of central importance is the finding in the above-cited Vo case that the question of when the right to life begins came within the States’ margin of appreciation because there was no European consensus on the scientific and legal definition of the beginning of life, so that it was impossible to answer the question whether the unborn was a person to be protected for the purposes of Article 2. Since the rights claimed on behalf of the foetus and those of the mother are inextricably interconnected the margin of appreciation accorded to a State’s protection of the unborn necessarily translates into a margin of appreciation for that State as to how it balances the conflicting rights of the mother. It follows that, even if it appears from the national laws referred to that most Contracting Parties may in their legislation have resolved those conflicting rights and interests in favour of greater legal access to abortion, this consensus cannot be a decisive factor in the Court’s examination of whether the impugned prohibition on abortion in Ireland for health and well-being reasons struck a fair balance between the conflicting rights and interests, notwithstanding an evolutive interpretation of the Convention.”

It is respectfully submitted that Ireland’s remaining constitutional protection for the unborn child and pregnant women is not in conflict with international human rights law, in this regard the dicta of the European Court of Human Rights in ‘A, B and C v Ireland’ should be noted by this Committee.

The unborn child is a living human being from the moment of conception, and is entitled to all of the same rights as other members of the human family. The consistent pressure to expand abortion in Ireland lacks a basis in International Law and is discriminatory to those unborn children that would be affected, as it disregards the legitimate rights recognised in the Irish Constitution. Furthermore, it is inconsistent with the text of the ICCPR cited above for this Committee to advocate for the removal of fundamental rights for an entire class of vulnerable persons, with the result that their right to life would be violated, and the rights guarantees afforded to them in the Irish domestic legal order would be meaningless.

Prohibition on abortion does not amount to torture

In addition, concern is expressed at any suggestion that a failure to further liberalise abortion laws in Ireland amounts to “torture” and a contravention of Article 7 of the ICCPR.  It is noted that this assertion has been made by organisations actively canvassing for the introduction of abortion.  It is deemed only appropriate that this accusation should be addressed at this time.

The concern to protect women and babies finds its outlet in the 8th Amendment of the Constitution.  To suggest that this concern is, in any way, similar to any kind of torturous practice, is obscene and a subversion of the normal desire of the Sovereign people of Ireland to protect the rights of both born citizens unborn human beings living on the cusp of citizenship and all of the benefits it brings.

Attention is drawn to the genuine cases where “abortion” and “torture” can genuinely be connected, namely the barbaric practice of babies born alive and left to die followed so-called “botched abortions”.  The PLC points to the ‘Confidential Enquiry into Maternal and Child Health, 2007’, commissioned by the UK Government, where it was discovered that 66 infants survived National Health Service abortion attempts in hospitals in England and Wales during 2005.  Instead of dying during the abortion procedure as intended, they survived and were able to breathe unaided but received no medical attention or care and were left to die.  Official records show that one of these babies survived for 10 hours.

This is an appalling failure of medical care and it is submitted that these cases represent a clear contravention of Article 7, as the babies in the cases mentioned were “subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment”, as outlined in the Article.  Concern is expressed that should Ireland be pressurised to adhere to the mistaken belief that abortion should be further legalised, similar human rights abuses would follow.  The achievement of the aims of Article 12 of the CESCR would slip further and further away, and Article 7 of ICCPR would be contravened.

Abortion should not be conflated with Health Care:

In illustrating the appropriateness of the Irish Protection for the unborn child and pregnant women, the PLC wishes to draw the Committee’s attention to the WHO Trends in Maternal Mortality 1990 to 2010 Report

The report’s findings support the principal of protecting both the mother and the unborn child which underlies medical practice in Ireland. The study finds that Ireland is joint fifth in a group of the safest countries in the world for women in pregnancy  which, should it be noted is lower than Ireland’s neighbour the United Kingdom where abortion is legal and widely available.

Ireland’s exemplary record on maternal healthcare illustrates that the prohibition of abortion does not lead to an irreconcilable conflict between the life of the mother and the unborn child. A false dichotomy is often suggested whereby the life of the unborn child and the mother are in conflict and only the provision of legal and widely available abortion will guarantee maternal survival. This analysis is conclusively dismissed by the information regarding Irelands maternal mortality rate cited above.

Conclusion

The unborn child is a member of the human family entitled to rights in international law.  The first among these is the right to life, without which no other rights are possible. Irish domestic law and international law both hold that the unborn child, by being granted explicit or implicit protections, is a rights-holder that is to be treated equally under the law as any other human being.

  • No ‘Right to die’ in International Law

The PLC submits that the provisions of Article 6.1 of the ICCPR, guaranteeing that every human being has the inherent right to life cannot, without a fundamental departure from the text of the treaty, be interpreted as conferring the diametrically opposite right, namely a right to die.

The PLC is supported in this view by the European Court of Human Rights in the leading authority in the area, Pretty v. the United Kingdom  wherein the court found that the right to life “cannot, without a distortion of language, be interpreted as conferring the diametrically opposite right, namely a right to die”.

It will be recalled that in Pretty v UK the applicant suffered from a severe progressive illness which limited her mobility and was ultimately terminal.

The applicant Diane Pretty alleged infringement of Article 2 (right to life), Article 3 (prohibition of torture and degrading treatment), among other alleged violations of the European Convention on Human Rights.

In particular the applicant sought to challenge the validity of the refusal of the United Kingdom prosecution authorities to assure her husband’s immunity from prosecution,

The European Court of Human Rights cited with approval the decision of the House of Lords in Pretty v Director of Public Prosecutions & Others The dicta of Lord Bingham of Cornhill for the court, are worth citing in detail as follows:

  1. The Secretary of State has advanced a number of unanswerable objections to this argument which were rightly upheld by the Divisional Court. The starting point must be the language of the Article. The thrust of this is to reflect the sanctity which, particularly in western eyes, attaches to life. The Article protects the right to life and prevents the deliberate taking of life save in very narrowly defined circumstances. An Article with that effect cannot be interpreted as conferring a right to die or to enlist the aid of another in bringing about one’s own death. ….If Article 2 does confer a right to self-determination in relation to life and death, and if a person were so gravely disabled as to be unable to perform any act whatever to cause his or her own death, it would necessarily follow in logic that such a person would have a right to be killed at the hands of a third party without giving any help to the third party and the State would be in breach of the Convention if it were to interfere with the exercise of that right. No such right can possibly be derived from an Article having the object already defined.
  2. It cannot however be suggested (to take some obvious examples) that Articles 3, 4, 5 and 6 confer an implied right to do or experience the opposite of that which the Articles guarantee. Whatever the benefits which, in the view of many, attach to voluntary euthanasia, suicide, physician-assisted suicide and suicide assisted without the intervention of a physician, these are not benefits which derive protection from an Article framed to protect the sanctity of life.

The foregoing statements from the House of Lords decision found approval in the Chamber decision dismissing the appeal taken by Diane Pretty claiming, inter alia, that the United Kingdom had infringed her rights under Article 2 (right to life), Article 3 (prohibition of torture and degrading treatment) amongst others

The court held that while the consistent emphasis in all the cases before the Court has been the obligation of the State to protect life, that did not amount to an obligation on the state to permit or facilitate the ending of life at the election of individual;

 “The Court is not persuaded that “the right to life” guaranteed in Article 2 can be interpreted as involving a negative aspect…. Article 2 cannot, without a distortion of language, be interpreted as conferring the diametrically opposite right, namely a right to die; nor can it create a right to self-determination in the sense of conferring on an individual the entitlement to choose death rather than life”

The court reiterated again in the preceding paragraph;

“The Court accordingly finds that no right to die, whether at the hands of a third person or with the assistance of a public authority, can be derived from Article 2 of the Convention.”

Additionally it is worth noting that the European Court of Human Rights rejected the argument that, in failing to undertake not to press charges against a person assisting a suicide, that the State Party is in violation of Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which provides; “No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

The court dismissed the arguments mounted by the applicant which sought to claim that her rights under Article 3 of the ECHR had been breached as follows;

“53. In the present case, it is beyond dispute that the respondent State has not, itself, inflicted any ill-treatment on the applicant. Nor is there any complaint that the applicant is not receiving adequate care from the State medical authorities…”

“54.  The applicant has claimed rather that the refusal of the DPP to give an undertaking not to prosecute her husband if he assisted her to commit suicide and the criminal-law prohibition on assisted suicide disclose inhuman and degrading treatment for which the State is responsible as it will thereby be failing to protect her from the suffering which awaits her as her illness reaches its ultimate stages. This claim, however, places a new and extended construction on the concept of treatment, which, as found by the House of Lords, goes beyond the ordinary meaning of the word. While the Court must take a dynamic and flexible approach to the interpretation of the Convention, which is a living instrument, any interpretation must also accord with the fundamental objectives of the Convention and its coherence as a system of human rights protection. Article 3 must be construed in harmony with Article 2, which hitherto has been associated with it as reflecting basic values respected by democratic societies. As found above, Article 2 of the Convention is first and foremost a prohibition on the use of lethal force or other conduct which might lead to the death of a human being and does not confer any right on an individual to require a State to permit or facilitate his or her death.”

It is respectfully submitted that this is the correct analysis where any attempt is made to conflate the impermissibility of ‘assisted suicide’ or euthanasia with the convention prohibition against torture at Article 7.

The Committee is invited to consider the nuanced and persuasive dicta of the European Court of Human Rights in resolving similar questions with regard to Article 6 of the ICCPR.

In addition to the foregoing jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights, the Committee is respectfully invited to consider the provisions of Recommendation 1418 of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe which recommended, inter alia, as follows (paragraph 9):

“… that the Committee of Ministers encourage the member States of the Council of Europe to respect and protect the dignity of terminally ill or dying persons in all respects:

  1. by upholding the prohibition against intentionally taking the life of terminally ill or dying persons, while:
  2. recognising that the right to life, especially with regard to a terminally ill or dying person, is guaranteed by the member States, in accordance with Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights which states that ‘no one shall be deprived of his life intentionally’;
  3. recognising that a terminally ill or dying person’s wish to die never constitutes any legal claim to die at the hand of another person;

iii.  recognising that a terminally ill or dying person’s wish to die cannot of itself constitute a legal justification to carry out actions intended to bring about death.”

It is the view of the PLC that a ‘right to die’ cannot be constructed from the provisions of Article 6 of the ICCPR.  Having regard to the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights, the Committee is urged to maintain coherence in the interpretation of Article 6 of the ICCPR in harmony with similar provisions in other human rights conventions and not to depart fundamentally from the clear textual provisions of the treaty.

To construct a right to assisted suicide or euthanasia from the provisions of the treaty is to twist and contort the ordinary meaning of the words at Article 6. It would in effect require the invention of a novel reading of the test to create, in the words of the European Court of Human Rights “a distortion of language”, by “conferring the diametrically opposite right”.

It is submitted that such a departure would introduce incoherence into human rights law and, if adopted, would bring the work of the Committee into disrepute.

  • Human Embryo deserves to be treated with dignity

In relation to the application of the Right to Life to the earliest stages of human life, the PLC maintains that these forms of human life are deserving of dignity and accordingly to the protection of international law.

The PLC, in asserting a right of dignity in law to pre-implanted embryos, wishes to draw the Committees attention to the decision of the Grand Chamber of the Court of Justice of the European Union (hereafter the European Court of Justice or “ECJ”) in Brüstle v Greenpeace

At the outset it should be noted the in 2009, the European Union adopted the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

The Charter sets out at Article 1, ‘Human dignity’;

Human dignity is inviolable. It must be respected and protected.

Additionally the charter states at Article 2 ‘Right to life’;

Everyone has the right to life.

Article 3 contains provisions in relation to the ‘Right to the integrity of the person’ and it states, inter alia, as follows;

  1. Everyone has the right to respect for his or her physical and mental integrity.
  2. In the fields of medicine and biology, the following must be respected in particular:

(a) the free and informed consent of the person concerned, according to the procedures laid down by law;

(b) the prohibition of eugenic practices, in particular those aiming at the selection of persons;

(c) the prohibition on making the human body and its parts as such a source of financial gain;

(d) the prohibition of the reproductive cloning of human beings.

In the Brüstle v Greenpeace case (cite above), Professor Brüstle, a neuropathologist and expert in stem cell research, had invented a way to produce, from embryonic stem cells, specialised cells for treating neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease.

He obtained a German patent for his research, which was subsequently opposed by Greenpeace. The German Federal Patent Court referred certain questions to the CJEU concerning the interpretation of the European Biotechnology Directive and its impact on the patentability of stem cell-based innovations in Europe. In particular, Article 6 of the Directive precludes patentability for certain biotechnological inventions, including “uses of human embryos for industrial or commercial purposes”

Upon hearing the referral from the German Courts, the Grand Chamber of the Court of Justice, interpreted the relevant E.U. Directive as holding that the embryo enjoys protection from the stage of fertilisation against patenting, when the patent application requires the prior destruction of human embryos. In essence the court found that the principle of dignity and integrity of the person protects the human embryo and the cells derived from it at any stage of its formation or development. The E.C.J. has defined the “human embryo” as “any human ovum after fertilisation, any non-fertilised human ovum”

The European Court of Justice found that that although the European Union seeks to promote investment in the field of biotechnology use of biological material originating from humans must be consistent with regard for fundamental rights and, in particular, the dignity of the person. Recital 16 in the preamble to the Directive, in particular, emphasises that ‘patent law must be applied so as to respect the fundamental principles safeguarding the dignity and integrity of the person’. The court opined in the following manner;

33      To that effect, as the Court has already held…., that all processes the use of which offends against human dignity are also excluded from patentability

34      The context and aim of the Directive thus show that the European Union legislature intended to exclude any possibility of patentability where respect for human dignity could thereby be affected. It follows that the concept of ‘human embryo’ within the meaning of Article 6(2)(c) of the Directive must be understood in a wide sense.

35      Accordingly, any human ovum must, as soon as fertilised, be regarded as a ‘human embryo’ within the meaning and for the purposes of the application of Article 6(2)(c) of the Directive, since that fertilisation is such as to commence the process of development of a human being.

Therefore, as can be seen the Court held that the concept of “human embryo” should be construed broadly, and therefore it took the view that any human ovum must be regarded as being a “human embryo”, as soon as it is fertilised, where that ovum could develop into a human being. The Court also confirmed that the term “human embryo” includes cells that are produced by artificial methods where the cells can commence the development process into a person if implanted in a womb.

This is the first decision of a European Court which provides a definition of the human embryo. The Court specified that this definition is “an autonomous concept of European Union law”. This means that in relation to European Union law, the meaning and scope of the term “human embryo” must be given a uniform and independent interpretation throughout the European Union. The Member States are no longer free to choose their own definition of the “human embryo” when applying the Directive. Within the framework of the E.C.J., it does not belong to the national margin of appreciation to determine what an embryo is and when the human embryo deserves legal protection in regard to human dignity and integrity. Such an autonomous definition is necessary in order to permit a uniform interpretation and implementation of the Directive throughout the European Union. Consequently, the assessment of the Convention according to which “there is no European consensus on the scientific and legal definition of the beginning of life” has to be considered to have lapsed.

It is respectfully submitted that the reasoning of the European Court of Justice is of particular moment in relation to this Committee’s consideration of the manner in which Article 6 of the ICCPR applies to the protection of human life at its earliest stages. Considering that the ECJ based its reasoning on “fundamental rights and, in particular, the dignity of the person” to inform how the treatment of the human embryo is to be conducted, the human rights context of this leading case is instructive in the present discussion.

In particular the provisions of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, Title I of which is headed “Dignity” and contains articles regarding the right to life (as cited above), which were considered by the court in reaching the decision in Brustle v Greenpeace.

Of additional note is the Advocate General’s Opinion where Advocate General Bot delineates the concept of human dignity as it applies to the human embryo;

“[H]uman dignity is a principle which must be applied not only to an existing human person, to a child who has been born, but also to the human body from the first stage in its development, i.e. from fertilisation.”

It is submitted that this analysis of Advocate General Bot was persuasive and would appear to have been adopted by the CJEU in its judgment.

Furthermore the leading European human rights instruments relating to bioethics contain provisions on prenatal life, such as the Oviedo Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine. The 1997 Oviedo Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine, Article 18 states:

 “Research on embryos in vitro

1 Where the law allows research on embryos in vitro, it shall ensure adequate protection of the embryo.

2   The creation of human embryos for research purposes is prohibited.”

 The decision in Brüstle v Greenpeace setting out a principle of respect for concept of human dignity as extending to the human embryo and the citation by the European Court of Justice of the relevant provisions of the Oviedo Convention is noteworthy in so far as they illustrate the emergence of a European consensus which would set a fundamental prohibition on the use of human embryonic material embryos in any commercial or scientific exploitative role.

It is submitted that this Committee would be well served by adopting this persuasive jurisprudence of the European Court of Justice, arising as it does from the right to life in Article 2 of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights and is therefore analogous to the rights contained in Article 6(1) of the ICCPR.

The PLC believes that respect is owed to the dignity and physical integrity of human life at its earliest stages. In the words of the Oviedo Convention, a society where “the interests and welfare of the human being shall prevail over the sole interest of society or science” can be secured by this Committee if it decides to adopt the progressive stance of the European Court of Justice taken in the above case.

  • Conclusion

As a society, we cannot claim to be true defenders of human rights unless we also protect the right to life of the most vulnerable members of the human family.  What’s at stake in this debate is the value of life, and the sad experience is that once laws permitting abortion, euthanasia, or experimentation on the human embryo are introduced, they diminish the society’s respect for the inherent value of every human life, born or unborn.

There is an unceasing challenge on law makers and society at large to create a more welcoming and inclusive environment for expectant mothers and their unborn children, and for elderly or terminally ill people. The PLC respectfully requests that this Committee remain faithful to the textual provisions of the ICCPR as interpreted in line with international legal norms.

Such legal norms do not contemplate any reading of the ICCPR which would permit a ‘right to abortion’ or a ‘right to die’.

In relation to Ireland, the desire of the Irish People to retain constitutional protection for the unborn has endured and is met with their equal desire to ensure that women receive whatever medical treatment they need while pregnant.

It is disappointing that this Committee has chosen to criticise the continued protection of Article 40.3.3 of the Irish Constitution and the defence thereof by the Irish Government, abiding by its duty to respect the will of the Irish People.

The PLC maintains the hope that this Committee will reflect on its duty to seek State Parties compliance with the actual provisions of the ICCPR which, when faithfully interpreted, act to protect human life at its most vulnerable stages.

June 2015