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Italian ban on embryo screening violated couple's rights

3 September 2012
Appeared in BioNews 671

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 in damages and expenses.

Rosetta Costa and Walter Pavan found out that they were both healthy carriers of cystic fibrosis when they gave birth to a daughter with the condition in 2006. In 2010, the couple terminated another pregnancy on medical grounds when the fetus was found to have cystic fibrosis.

The couple decided to have a second child using IVF with the intention of screening the embryos} using PGD to select an embryo without the condition. However, Italy is one of the few European countries, along with Austria and Switzerland, which prohibits the technique. The couple argued this prohibition interfered with their right to respect for their private and family life under the European Convention on Human Rights.

Italy argues that its laws protect the health of women and children and discourage deliberate 'eugenic abuse'. However, the ECtHR ruled that the privacy rights of the couple trump that concern. The Court also said that the case highlights 'the incoherence of the Italian legislative system that bans the implantation of only healthy embryos while allowing the abortion of fetuses with genetic conditions'.

The law 'only gives the plaintiffs one option, full of anxiety and suffering', it said.

The Italian Government said on Wednesday that it was likely to appeal the ruling. However, Antonio Di Pietro, head of an opposition party, Italy of Values, said that Italy needed a new law that 'gives the right to have preliminary genetic analysis of an embryo not just for sterile couples but also to fertile couples suffering from hereditary diseases such as sickle cell anaemia and cystic fibrosis'.

The case is Costa and Pavan v. Italy (application no. 54270/10).

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