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Italy's fertility laws face referendum

17 January 2005
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 291

Italy's highest court has approved a series of referendums on whether parts of its controversial new fertility law should be overhauled. However, the constitutional court rejected calls for a referendum on completely scrapping the law, instead allowing a public vote on some of its elements. These will include rules limiting fertility treatment to heterosexual couples, and those governing embryo research. The country's anti-clerical Radical Party, which collected the 500,000 signatures needed to call for the referendum, is reportedly outraged by the decision.

Italy's laws, said to be the most restrictive in Europe, have hardly been out of the news since they were passed last December. Before they were passed, the country had a reputation for being the 'Wild West' of fertility treatments due to its lack of restrictions, and many people travelled there to take advantage of controversial services they could not get in their own countries.

Now, the law restricts the provision of fertility treatments to 'stable heterosexual couples' who live together and are of childbearing age, and who are shown to be clinically infertile. Research using human embryos is prohibited, as well as embryo freezing, gamete donation, surrogacy and the provision of any fertility treatments for single women or same-sex couples.

The law 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, increasing the risk of multiple births. PGD (pre-implantation genetic diagnosis) and prenatal screening for genetic disorders have also been banned. According to BBC News Online, fertility clinics across Europe have seen an increase in the numbers of Italian patients seeking treatment since the legislation came into force.

Radical Party secretary Daniele Capezzone called the referendum decision 'a scandal', adding that he expected the mainstream political parties to try to pre-empt the referendum by creating new legislation to replace the old law. Supporters of the law saw the judgement as a partial victory, since it opens the law to changes but will mean it is not completely overturned. Christian Democrat Dorina Bianchi, one of the law's main proponents, called the decision 'fair and balanced'.

The government must now hold the referendum between 15 April and 15 June, and at least 50 per cent of the electorate must vote if it is to have legal weight. However, several politicians from various parties said it would now be better for parliament to amend the law, rather than put complex questions to voters.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Italians to vote on fertility law
BBC News Online |  13 January 2005
Italy's Fertility Rules Face Referendum
xtramsn news |  14 January 2005
Italy's fertility rules face referendum challenge
Reuters |  13 January 2005
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