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Controversial Italian fertility bill becomes law

Dr. Kirsty Horsey

Progress Educational Trust

15 February 2004

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[BioNews, London] The Italian Parliament has given its final approval to a controversial bill governing assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs), said to be the most restrictive in Europe. The Chamber of Deputies voted 277-222 in favour of the bill, with three abstentions. The new law, which will come into force when it is signed by the President, is the first that the country has passed in this area. The bill was drafted as a response to concerns that Italy was seen as the 'Wild West of assisted reproduction' because, in the past, people have been able to travel to the country for many controversial treatments not available in their own countries.

Because of this, the new law is very restrictive, limiting the use of ARTs to 'stable heterosexual couples who live together and are of childbearing age'. Research using human embryos is prohibited, as well as embryo freezing, gamete donation, surrogacy and the provision of any ARTs for single women or same-sex couples. The bill also says that no more than three eggs can be fertilised at any one time, and that any eggs fertilised must all be transferred to the uterus simultaneously. PGD and prenatal screening for genetic disorders would also been banned. The act also says that ARTs can only be provided if a couple is clinically infertile. Doctors will be able to 'conscientiously object' to providing ART services.

The law also provides that existing IVF embryos in frozen storage in Italy will be put up 'for adoption' if unclaimed, and embryo storage facilities will then be closed. Violations of the new legislation will be severely punished: offences carry jail sentences of between 10 and 20 years for scientists involved in cloning or the manipulation of human embryos. Cloning will also be subject to a one million Euro fine. Doctors who use donated gametes in treatment will be fined up to 600,000 Euros and those providing ARTs for single women or same-sex couples could be fined up to 300,000 Euros.

During the passage of the new law, two female Communist party representatives protested by wearing white masks. They join other critics of the legislation, who include many liberal and female members of the Italian parliament, who say that it is too restrictive, especially in comparison with other European countries, and that it places women's health at risk. Fertility specialists have complained that the law was written 'with the Vatican in mind' and that the techniques promoted by it are 'a potential disaster for women'. Arne Sunde, chair of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE) said that the law is 'utterly deplorable'.

© Copyright Progress Educational Trust

Reproduced with permission from BioNews, an email and online sources of news, information and comment on assisted reproduction and genetics.

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Date Added: 15 February 2004   Date Updated: 12 September 2004
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Cathy Scott   23 September 2006

This law is actually contrary to the Human Rights Act, which states clearly that everybody has the right to create a family. By denying infertile people the chance to use donated sperm or eggs, this law denies people their right to create a family. This causes untold anguish. The result is that, while infertile men may be able to impregnate their partner using a low-tech method (sperm donated by a sympathetic friend), infertile women have to travel abroad for treatment. If they can afford it, that is - it costs thousands of Euros to undergo egg donation abroad, plus hotel and travel costs, and all treatment is paid out of taxed income. 10,000 EUR per attempt is therefore roughly what you need to earn. It is utterly disgraceful that infertile people should have their right to create a family blocked by legislation. If you agree, please contact a human rights organisation (such as Amnesty International) and ask if they are interested in trying to overturn this unfair law. Thank you!

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