Monica Belluci, the Italian actress who played Mary Magdalane in 'The Passion of the Christ', has told newspapers that she strongly supports a 'yes' vote in next month's referendum on Italy's tough fertility laws. The referendum, set for 12 and 13 June, was approved by Italy's Constitutional Court last year after the country's Radical Party collected more than the 500,000 necessary signatures. However, the public are only to be asked to vote on some elements of the law, including the rules limiting fertility treatment to heterosexual couples, and those governing embryo research. For the results of the referendum to be legitimated, there must be a 50 per cent turnout.
Italy's laws, said to be the most restrictive in Europe, were passed in December 2003 to counter the country's reputation for being the 'Wild West' of fertility treatments. 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 (preimplantation genetic diagnosis) and prenatal screening for genetic disorders have also been banned. Fertility clinics across Europe have reportedly seen an increase in the numbers of Italian patients seeking treatment since the legislation came into force.
Supporters of the 'yes' vote want to repeal a number of the law's restrictions, including the prohibitions on some types of treatment and the 'stable heterosexual couples' requirement. Belluci accused the Roman Catholic Church in Italy - which has urged 'mature Catholics' to abstain form the vote, in the hope of failing to meet the 50 per cent turn out required - of interfering with the 'sacrosanct' right of Italian women to have children. 'The law creates an absurd situation', she said, adding 'politicians and priests should stay out of this'. She continued: 'When I travel, people abroad laugh at me when I describe the Italian law to them', adding 'it's a law against women which is worthy of the Inquisition'.
Meanwhile, Italy's Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, the country's highest academic panel, has voted 58 to eight in favour of using frozen embryos left over from fertility treatments and stored before the law came into force, for stem cell research. It says that these embryos 'should not be lost, but used to alleviate the suffering produced by degenerative diseases'. Some Catholics have accused the Accademia of trying to influence public opinion before the referendum, rather than promoting science.