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Italian IVF clinic violated woman's human rights by forcing pregnancy

Hugo Wolfe

Progress Educational Trust

01 April 2019

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[BioNews, London]

Italy violated a woman's right to health after the country's fertility laws led to a forced pregnancy, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights concluded on Wednesday.

The response, given in Geneva, was to a case brought by an unnamed couple who had exhausted domestic legal avenues in Italy. The couple were having IVF treatment, and the woman became pregnant against her wishes after her clinic threatened legal action when she tried to withdraw her consent to embryo transfer. 

The committee's scrutiny focused on Italy's Law 40/2004 – regulating assisted reproductive technologies – which was cited by the clinic.

The couple first challenged this law in 2008 when they attended the clinic for the first time, as the clinic refused to carry out preimplantation genetic diagnosis on their embryos saying that the law banned clinical research on human embryos. After the case went to Italy's Constitutional Court, the clinic was ordered to test their embryos, all of which carried a hereditary bone disorder so none were transferred.

The couple underwent IVF treatment again in 2009, and were informed that only one of six embryos tested was free from the genetic disorder. This single embryo was graded 'average quality' with little chance of forming a successful pregnancy. 

Fearing a miscarriage, the woman tried to withdraw her consent for the treatment. However, Law 40/2004 stipulates consent can only be withdrawn before fertilisation has occurred and the clinic threatened to sue her if she refused. She then had the embryo was transferred into her uterus, resulting in a miscarriage.

The 18-strong UN committee of human rights experts found that the Italian law restricted the woman's right to take back her consent which led to a forced medical intervention and miscarriage. 

The committee also noted that the couple were deterred from trying IVF again because of the Italian law: 'the uncertainty created by the law regarding whether the consent to the transfer can be withdrawn after fertilisation prevents them from trying to conceive again through an in vitro fertilisation procedure, thus violating their right to health and to form a family'.

The UN committee recommended that Italy is obliged to provide the couple with 'an effective remedy' to their situation – clarifying its laws around IVF and compensating the woman with damages, and the couple for legal costs. It has requested Italy responds within six months.


Case ruling
UN News |  27 March 2019
Forced pregnancy in Italy violated ‘woman’s human right to health’, UN experts rule
UN News |  27 March 2019
Italy: Forced pregnancy violated a woman’s human right to health, say UN experts
UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner |  27 March 2019

© 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: 01 April 2019   Date Updated: 01 April 2019
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