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Controversial Italian fertility bill becomes law

11 February 2004
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 245

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 (preimplantation genetic diagnosis) 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 €1 million fine. Doctors who use donated gametes in treatment will be fined up to €600,000 and those providing ARTs for single women or same-sex couples could be fined up to €300,000.

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'.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Italian law reins in assisted reproduction
Yahoo Daily News |  10 February 2004
Italy divided by draconian new fertility controls
The Daily Telegraph |  12 February 2004
Italy OKs Tough Fertility Treatment Law
Newsday |  10 February 2004
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