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What happens to those suffering from infertility in Italy now?

21 June 2005
By Clare Lewis-Jones MBE
Chief Executive, Infertility Network UK and Chair, European Infertility Alliance.
Appeared in BioNews 314
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 they see as a personal issue. Others feel the outcome reflects the feelings of Italians in general. Since the collapse of the referendum I have read several comments in the media varying in opinion. These range from: 'Why do people insist on making more babies when there are so many here already that need homes and love, we should be reducing the population, not increasing it. Kick the fertility habit! Be creative, not reproductive!' and 'As anyone who has had problems conceiving knows, the trauma that it causes is horrific and my heart goes out to all couples going through fertility treatment' (from BBC News Online's 'Have Your Say').

However, I have heard directly from patients in Italy, specifically from our sister organisation in Italy, 'Cerco un Bimbo', and, as many readers of BioNews will expect, they are angry and devastated by the collapse of the Italian referendum. This law means that patients in Italy are not permitted to have egg or sperm donation, are only allowed to create and transfer three embryos in any one treatment cycle, and cryopreservation is forbidden. This law literally forces patients to travel abroad thus escalating 'fertility tourism', increases the risks of multiple births for patients and the resulting children, and removes choice from patients.

Let me take those three decisions in turn. First, the law forbidding egg or sperm donation. There are several reasons why couples may need gamete donation in order to have a family. Some could be forgiven for thinking it is only those couples where the woman has decided to pursue a career, is over 40 and the quality of her eggs is poor. But in fact there are other reasons such as premature menopause and infertility (both male and female) brought on by cancer treatment. Why should any of these couples be denied the chance of a family?

Doctors are concerned that the requirement to transfer three embryos, if they are created, in any one treatment cycle, whatever their quality, together with the ban on cryopreservation, reduces the chance of success for couples in Italy. Couples are forced to undergo a higher number of treatment cycles in order to conceive - cycles which have potential risks such as ovarian hyper-stimulation syndrome (OHSS), a very rare but potentially fatal condition. The mandatory implantation of three embryos also increases the risk of a multiple pregnancy, again with potential health consequences for the mother and the potential children.

Infertility patients are generally considered to be one of the most informed groups of patients and it is obvious therefore they too will have these concerns. My organisation, Infertility Network UK (I N UK), is a member and the current Chair of the European Infertility Alliance (EIA). The EIA is made up of organisations of those affected by fertility problems. At a meeting of its members, held before the annual iCSi (International Consumer Support for Infertility) conference in Copenhagen, prior to the ESHRE Congress, all members agreed that the aim of the EIA was to promote equity of access to high quality, affordable infertility health care services and the involvement of patients in all aspects of treatment and public policy decision making in Europe - including Italy.

One point appears to have been overlooked in all the media and political coverage of this issue - namely the devastating emotional effect that this law may have on couples. I hope that the many people affected by the outcome of the referendum in Italy - couples whose lives have been put on hold for years whilst they try to have a baby and whose health is being put at risk by this legislation - are provided with the emotional support they need and deserve.

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. ..
11 December 2006 - by Dr Jess Buxton 
Thousands of Italians are being forced to travel abroad for assisted reproduction or preimplantation genetic diagnosis (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...
20 June 2006 - by Dr Kirsty Horsey 
BioNews reporting from ESHRE conference, Prague (sponsored by Planer cryoTechnology). By Dr Kirsty Horsey: Italian scientists have presented research at the annual conference of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE) in Prague, Czech Republic, showing that eggs can be screened - before they are fertilised - for chromosomal abnormalities...
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...
20 June 2005 - by BioNews 
BioNews reporting from ESHRE conference, Copenhagen: Guido Pennings, professor of ethics and bioethics at the University of Ghent, Belgium, says that we should not condemn 'reproductive tourism' in Europe but regard it as a 'safety valve' that can help to avoid moral conflict. He told the annual conference of the...
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...
5 June 2005 - by Dr Mauro Costa 
The new Italian law regulating assisted reproduction technology restricts the provision of fertility treatments to 'stable heterosexual couples' who are shown to be clinically infertile. The law, passed in 2004, states that no more than three oocytes (eggs) can be fertilised in an IVF cycle, and that all embryos obtained...
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