Assisted Fertility Referendum Likely Fails in Italy, Victory for Catholics

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jun 13, 2005   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Assisted Fertility Referendum Likely Fails in Italy, Victory for Catholics Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
June 13, 2005

Rome, Italy ( — A referendum to repeal an Italian assisted fertility law, that supporters say reigns in runaway research in the reproductive technologies field, appears to have failed. If the final vote numbers hold up, it appears to be a victory for the Catholic Church and the first for new Pope Benedict XVI.

Yesterday, only 18.7 percent of eligible voters turned out at the polls, well short of the 50 percent needed to make the vote official. No matter who those who voted cast their ballots, the referendum to repeal the pro-life law appears dead.

The need for the law came when 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.

The Pope said it was important for the church to urge Catholics in the European country to protect human life and he applauded Italian Catholic leaders for their campaign to encourage voters to stay home.

"Life cannot be put to a vote — choose not to vote," a poster from the Catholic Church read.

Under the current law, 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.

Those who favored repeal of the law worry that the victory may prompt the Catholic church to overturn laws allowing legalized abortion.

”Attention will now turn to abortion,” said Equal Opportunities Minister Stefania Prestigiacomo, the only leading government official to actively campaign for repealing the law.

”The inconsistencies between the two laws (on reproduction and on abortion) are enormous. I expect in the short-to-medium term someone will take the initiative (to try to overturn abortion laws)," he told Reuters.

Voting continues today, but Prestigiacomo told the newspaper Corriere della Sera that "we will be talking about a real defeat" if the percentage of Italians voting doesn’t reach 30 percent.

A May 2004 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.

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. Also, freezing and using human embryos in research is illegal.

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.