Letter from Prague

A human interest story that recently made the headlines and caused public controversy here was the tale of a woman who asked to be inseminated with her dead husband's sperm. The couple were young and childless, and the woman's husband had made provision for this before undergoing chemotherapy, and eventually succumbing to cancer, but the Prague Institute for Artificial Insemination and the Medical Ethics Commission of the Czech Health Ministry firmly turned down the woman's request on the grounds that the law requires consent from both parents for artificial insemination. Czech law still favours two-parent heterosexual families - and single, divorced, widowed and lesbian women are not eligible for artificial insemination.

In this particular case the widow took the matter to court and the judge passed a verdict in her favour, saying that to deny her the right to have her dead husband's baby would be in violation of Czech human rights legislation.

"Woman To Have Dead Man's Baby" read the headlines in the morning papers. The headlines were revealing of the fact that some people find the idea morbid and inappropriate. Riding on the tram the other day I heard one elderly woman refer to it as "unnatural" along with other things that scientists are doing nowadays such as cloning. The woman concluded that "nothing good would come out of Man's meddling with Nature and we'll all pay for it one day".

I understand her fear of cloning. To a great extent I share it. Cloning will doubtless enable doctors to do great things, but I have no doubt at all that Man will also abuse this discovery, and while Mankind may be scientifically ready for such a step, I do not believe that we are ready for the enormous moral challenges it would place before us.

However, in this case, we are talking merely about a woman and a man who wanted a baby - and whom medicine can help in the face of human tragedy.

Many couples need to avail themselves of artificial insemination today and there is no guarantee that such a child will not lose one parent or that they will not divorce within the next few years. In other words, although it is a difficult decision to make, it should be made by the woman in question not all-powerful legislation approved by 200 deputies in Parliament who know nothing of the given circumstances of this particular case. For this reason I am glad that the court ruled as it did. Consider this. The woman was turned away because Czech law favours two-parent heterosexual families. Yet the Czech Republic has one of the highest divorce rates in the world. According to some statistics we are third down the ladder. And recently, psychologists and child-help line volunteers have brought to light a disturbingly high rate of child abuse, often in two-parent heterosexual families. I am a great deal more worried about the fate of these children than the aforementioned "miracle baby". Given the fight she has put up to have it I am sure the baby's mother will love, cherish and protect him. And I'm keeping my fingers crossed for both of them.