Page URL: https://www.bionews.org.uk/page_90243

Restrictive fertility law forces Italian patients abroad

11 December 2006
Appeared in BioNews 388

Thousands of Italians are being forced to travel abroad for assisted reproduction or PGD treatment, because of Italy's highly restrictive legislation. The results of a new survey carried out by the Reproductive Tourism Observatory show that the number of couples travelling to other countries for such procedures has increased four-fold since the law was passed three years ago. The ban on PGD - testing embryos to identify those free from serious genetic disorders- was challenged unsuccessfully in a court case held earlier this year.

Italy's new law, said to be the most restrictive in Europe, was passed in December 2003 to counter the country's reputation for being the 'Wild West' of fertility treatments. 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 is 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. Italians are also banned from using PGD for any purpose.

The new survey, which gathered data from 27 centres in nine European countries and the US, compared the number of Italian couples who used the centres before and after the law came into effect. It revealed that the number of Italians seeking treatment rose from 1066 in 2003 to 4173 in 2005, with Spain the most popular destination. Data from seven Spanish clinics showed that the number of Italian couples they treated had jumped from 60 to 1365 - representing between 10-50 per cent of their patients. Other popular countries for treatment were Belgium and Switzerland, particularly the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino.

The Reproductive Tourism Observatory was set up by Cecos, an association of private Italian fertility clinics. Its chairman, gynaecologist Andrea Borini, said that the law had also affected the outcomes of fertility treatment carried out in Italy: 'Compared with years before the new law, the number of cycles of treatment remained stable in 2005, as did success rates, except in women aged older than 40 years [in whom it fell], because of the limit of three fertilisable oocytes', he told the British Medical Journal (BMJ). 'On the other hand, among younger women we recorded an increase of multiple pregnancies, which have risen from 16 to 21 per cent of the total, while triplets have increased from 1.8 to 4.3 per cent, since the law insists that all fertilised embryos must be implanted in the womb', he added.

Last month, the Italian Constitutional Court turned down an appeal from a couple at high risk of having a child with thalassaemia, who wanted to use PGD to ensure they did not implant an embryo affected by the genetic blood disorder. Gynaecologist Giovanni Monni told the BMJ that the woman being treated was 'so shocked about the law' that she didn't agree to have the embryo implanted without knowing whether it was affected by thalassaemia. 'She had already had two abortions in the past, after positive results for thalassaemia from chorionic villus sampling', he said.

In court, the couple argued that the law put womens' health in danger, because without PGD they are often exposed to the mental stress of prenatal diagnosis and abortion. After losing their case, the couple now plan to travel abroad to restart their treatment. The law does not set a penalty for women who refuse to have their embryos implanted - under these circumstances, doctors are allowed to freeze embryos for potential use in the treatment of another infertile couple. 'Sadly, the ban of preimplantation testing is favouring procreative tourism among the wealthiest and abortions among the poorest couples', Dr Monni said.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Italian court upholds ban on pre-implantation diagnosis
BMJ |  4 November 2006
Italians are forced to go abroad for assisted reproduction
British Medical Journal |  9 December 2006
RELATED ARTICLES FROM THE BIONEWS ARCHIVE
16 January 2017 - by Jen Willows 
Twin boys born to a same-sex couple through surrogacy do not have the legal status of brothers, according to an Italian court...
14 April 2014 - by Siobhan Chan 
Italy's constitutional court has lifted a ban on the use of donor sperm and eggs for assisted conception, saying it was 'unconstitutional'...
3 September 2012 - by Rosie Beauchamp 
Italy has violated the rights of a couple carrying cystic fibrosis by preventing them from screening embryos using PGD, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has ruled. The Strasbourg-based court ordered the Italian government to pay the couple 17,500 euros in damages and expenses....
14 December 2009 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
A group of Italian scientists have lost an appeal to challenge a research funding call that excludes embryonic stem celln (ES cell) research even though the technique is lawful in the country, Nature reports. The Italian health ministry put together an expert committee to produce a set of proposals to attract funding, after the previous stem cell research fund was marred in controversy following allegations that funds were being distributed in a non-transparent and arbitrary manner. ..
26 August 2008 - by Professor Guido Pennings 
The European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE) has been concerned about the development of cross-border infertility treatment for some time. There are three reasons for this: the frequently negative publicity for infertility treatment presented as 'reproductive tourism', the increasing numbers and the risks for patients. ESHRE has taken...
21 June 2005 - by BioNews 
BioNews reporting from ESHRE conference, Copenhagen: A presentation given at the annual conference of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE) shows what clinical effects restrictive Italian fertility laws, which came into force on 10 March 2004, have had on success rates - both in the laboratory and the...
21 June 2005 - by BioNews 
BioNews reporting from ESHRE conference, Copenhagen: A presentation given at the annual conference of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE) shows what effects restrictive Italian fertility laws, which came into force on 10 March 2004, have had on people's choices about their frozen embryos. Italy's laws, said...
21 June 2005 - by Clare Lewis-Jones MBE 
My heart goes out to all those patients in Italy who continue to have their future governed by what is dangerous legislation on the provision of infertility treatment, in particular IVF. Views expressed by the general public on this issue have been mixed. Many condemned the Church's intervention in what...
13 June 2005 - by Dr Kirsty Horsey 
The outcome of Italy's referendum on its fertility law means that Italy retains its position as one of the world's most restrictive nations on fertility treatments and related research. It is - and will now continue to be - wholly out of line with most of the rest of Europe on these...
13 June 2005 - by BioNews 
The results are in on the Italian referendum on its fertility laws. A low turnout of voters on Sunday 12 June - fewer than 19 per cent - made it doubtful that the 50 per cent turnout rate necessary would be reached, even though the polls were opened for a second day...
HAVE YOUR SAY
Log in to add a Comment.

By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions


Syndicate this story - click here to enquire about using this story.