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Sunday's vote: Swiss consider ban on test tube babies

An initiative to ban all medically-assisted procreation and sperm donation goes to a nationwide vote on March 12. The initiative "for procreation which respects human dignity" aims to stop all methods that might be "against nature".

This content was published on March 6, 2000 - 12:03

An initiative to ban all medically-assisted procreation and sperm donation goes to a nationwide vote on March 12. The initiative "for procreation which respects human dignity" aims to stop all methods that might be "against nature".

Opponents of medically-assisted procreation believe that once fertilisation of a woman's egg takes place, life exists, and add that any treatment which is not guaranteed to be successful, therefore risks taking a human life.

Dr Nikolaus Zwycky supports this initiative because he believes sperm donation and in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) violate the "human rights of these embryos who are, in my opinion, full human beings with the rights of a human being."

The problem stems from the fact that often, it takes more than one try to make a woman pregnant through IVF treatment. While doctors may successfully fertilise an egg, there is no guarantee that the embryo will grow once inside the woman's body.

"We know that a lot of embryos will die, and actually we have got the problem of unintended abortion at a very early stage of pregnancy," explains Dr Zwycky.

But statistics indicate that many couples have successfully had children through IVF treatment. Worldwide, more than 600,000 babies have been born as a result of medically-assisted procreation. On average, two such babies are born in Switzerland every day. With one in every six couples infertile in Switzerland, the statistics show there is a demand for such treatment.

Supporters of medically-assisted procreation argue that IVF treatment is also a human right. Dr Bruno Umthurn, head of the fertility department at Zurich's university hospital, says there must be choice.

"There should be the freedom and the choice for all couples in Switzerland to decide for themselves, a choice that is in my point of view a human right," he aid.

Dr Umthurn also believes infertility is an illness, as does the Geneva-based World Health Organisation. "We as doctors are obliged to offer a treatment if a treatment is available," he said.

But Dr Zwycky would prefer to explore other alternatives to IVF treatment. Adoption, for example, often takes away the stress couples put themselves through to have children. In a more relaxed atmosphere, Dr Zwycky says women often fall pregnant.

Sperm banks may have solved the problem of pregnancy for single women. But supporters of the initiative oppose the idea. They say the identity of the child is undermined because the biological father is unknown. But as Dr Umthurn points out, the Swiss constitution stipulates that the identity of the sperm donor must be made known to the child should it want to know who the father is.

The referendum is unlikely to be adopted. It has been rejected by the government, parliament and all major parties. Dr Zwycky himself, who is president of the association of Swiss Catholic Doctors and a member of the Swiss branch of Human Life International, recognises the chances are slim.

After all, 100,000 couples are unable to conceive in Switzerland, and it is likely many will pin their hopes on alternatives to natural procreation.

By Samantha Tonkin

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