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Italy passes strictest ART laws

16 December 2003
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 238

The Italian Senate has passed a bill governing assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs), said to be the most restrictive in Europe. Parliamentarians voted 169-90 in favour of the bill, the first that the country has passed in this area. Italian lawmakers, while debating the new law, were concerned 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 laws proposed are very restrictive, limiting the use of ARTs to 'stable heterosexual couples'. 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 (preimplantation genetic diagnosis) and prenatal screening for genetic disorders would also been banned. Under the bill, ARTs can only be provided if the couple is clinically infertile. Doctors will be able to 'conscientiously object' to providing ART services.

The bill also proposes that existing IVF embryos in frozen storage in Italy will be put up 'for adoption' if unclaimed, and storage facilities will then be closed. Violations of the new legislation will be severely punished, carrying 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. The bill will now have to get final approval from the lower house of parliament before it becomes law, although it is thought that the text will essentially remain the same.

Critics of the bill, including many liberal and female members of the Italian parliament, have said that it is too restrictive, especially in comparison with other European countries, and it places women's health at risk. 'It is truly an awful law', said Senator Gavino Angius, from the Democratic left. Italian scientists have called it 'unacceptable and immoral'. 'Under this insane new law, we will be obliged to implant a defective embryo in the womb', said Nino Guglielmino, a doctor specialising in PGD. Arne Sunde, head of the European Society of Human Reproduction (ESHRE), said the new law would be 'disastrous'. 'Clinical practice in Italy will become less efficient and will have an increased frequency of negative side effects, such as multiple pregnancies', he added.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Abortions could be next target as Italy restricts test tube babies
The Independent |  13 December 2003
Italian Debate on Fertility Bill Raises Issue of Church Influence
Yahoo Daily News |  11 December 2003
Italy approves embryo law
The Scientist |  12 December 2003
Italy bans donor sperm and eggs
BBC News Online |  11 December 2003
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