February 20, 2024


And across the Irish Sea in Dublin, a divorced couple is locked in a custody battle over embryos also created and frozen in 2001. A former wife wants to have the embryos implanted; her husband, now in a new relationship, refuses. The unnamed couple, who have already had one child from these embryos, originally agreed that joint consent was needed on all decisions relating to the embryos. Now that they have fallen out, the embryos are in limbo.

Resolving the deadlock will be tricky. No Irish statute covers the fate of IVF embryos and the Irish constitution guarantees the right to life of unborn children. “These embryos are joint property of the couple, although even using the word property is unsavoury,” says Frank Martin, a law lecturer at University College Cork. “Irish and English laws differ in that we have a written constitution, which makes this case distinctly Irish. The issue then is to determine if the embryo is synonymous with the unborn, and judges are going to be faced with this linguistic difficulty.”

Last year a government commission recommended radical changes to Irish reproductive law, including the legalisation of surrogacy, IVF for same-sex couples, and no legal protection for IVF embryos, but the government is unlikely to deal with these controversial proposals before next year’s general election.