A new law on assisted reproduction for infertile couples passed through the Chamber of Deputies of the Italian parliament on 10 February with 277 votes in favour, 222 against and 3 abstentions. The fiercest opposition came from parties of the political left, who maintain that Catholic votes have pushed through illiberal and anti-feminist legislation which "Slams the door in the face of a lay state and of modern Europe". They also point out that the new prohibitive law will push some of the more than 50,000 couples seeking treatment to go abroad if they can afford to do so.
The law allows assisted reproduction only in the case of sterility or infertility where documented pharmaceutical treatment has had no effect, and only for heterosexual couples of childbearing age.
Under the terms of the law no outside donors may be used, a ruling considered particularly offensive and cruel in the case of the couples who are carriers of genetic illnesses. Doctors attempting to use donor sperms or eggs may be fined 300,000 to 600,000 and suspended for three years.
Those undergoing treatment must be fully informed, before treatment begins, of risks, medical and psychological, and the embryos (a maximum of three) must be implanted in the uterus simultaneously and within 7 days of fertilization. Freezing of the embryos and subsequent implanting will only be allowed in the case of a serious and documented health problem. Once the embryos have been implanted, the couple can not have second thoughts, even in the presence of the risk of a malformation in the embryos.
No cloning or experimentation on embryos will be permitted, a blow to scientists currently doing research using stem cells from embryos.
The law, which was passed by the Senate in December last year, must now be signed by the President of the Republic and then be published in the Gazzetta Ufficiale to come into force. In the meantime the opposition is preparing for battle by challenging the law in the Supreme Court, and by collecting the necessary signatures for a referendum.