Italian Reproductive Technology Law Draws Industry Criticism

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jun 9, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Italian Reproductive Technology Law Draws Industry Criticism

by Paul Nowak Staff Writer
June 9, 2004

Washington, DC ( — Italy’s reproductive technology law, passed in February, has drawn criticism from the industry and couples seeking in vitro fertilization.

Supporters say the law will reign in runaway research in the reproductive technologies field, such as the extraordinary claims of a 62 year-old woman who became pregnant via artificial insemination. The fertility specialist responsible for that feat has already stated he wants to be the first researcher to clone a human being.

A May ruling by a Sicilian judge upheld the law’s requirement requiring that all three artificially inseminated embryos must be transplanted, untested, into a woman who had a genetic disorder. Opposition has grown since that ruling, and opponents have even begun to collect signatures in an attempt to get a referendum to repeal the law.

Opponents cite Italy’s declining fertility rate, among the lowest in Europe, to show that the restrictions on reproductive technology need to be relaxed, although legalized abortions in Italy do not help fertility rates either. Despite economic incentives to have children, Italian women have only 1.3 children on average, well below the necessary rate to maintain population levels.

The law bans the use of donor sperm, eggs or surrogate mothers and restricts assisted fertilization to "stable" couples. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right coalition drew up the bill but it received support from members of all political parties.

The law makes the cloning of embryos a crime punishable with up to 20 years in prison and a one million Euro fine, according to Reuters. Also, freezing and using human embryos in research is illegal.

Doctors are allowed to create as many as three human embryos for couples seeking to have a child, but all three must be implanted into the woman at the same time instead of using one and freezing the rest, preventing the practice of genetic selection.

Existing frozen embryos, of which there are about 24,000 in the country, would be put up for "adoption," and frozen embryo depositories would be closed.

Some fertility experts from Italy are relocating to other counties with more lax standards, and Italian residents have traveled to other countries, including Switzerland, to receive the kind of fertility treatments they seek.

"You can expect many doctors to leave and do their work in other countries," said Luca Gianaroli, a director of the Sismer fertility clinic in Bologna told Reuters.