In their request for a legal exemption, the couple wrote: "According to our religion, every embryo is an individual, even if they are so small that you can hardly see them."
Kersti Lundin at Sahlgrenska’s reproductive medicine unit says she has never received such a request before and that the law makes it impossible for the hospital to grant the couple their wish.
The couple had three embryos frozen at the Sahlgrenska University Hospital, and they wanted the hospital to hand over the embryos so that they could bury them themselves, in accordance with their religious conviction. But the hospital refused.
Speaking to Swedish Radio News, Lundin said: "We follow the human tissue law, which says that an institute that stores tissues may only hand over cells or human tissue to another approved tissue institution.”
Lundin is responsible for Sahlgrenska’s biobank, where biological samples are stored, and she determined that the hospital could not accept the couple's request, made on religious grounds.
"We felt that we couldn't do it. Instead, we have to apply the same rules to all patients. As long as we follow the law then everyone will get the same treatment."
It is not clear from the couple's exemption request what religion they belong to, but Benedicta Lindberg, secretary-general of the Catholic organisation Respekt, disagrees with the hospital's decision.
Lindberg told Swedish Radio News that the couple and the three embryos deserve the same respect and dignity as every living child and person. While there are strict rules governing the treatment of human tissue samples in Sweden, this case, Lindberg insisted, is unusual and would not involve any abuse.
"It would be possible to attend and monitor the funeral, or to seal the embryos in a way that would mean they couldn't be used for any other purpose, or you could let those concerned sign a written agreement. I think it would have been possible to find a solution," said Lindberg.