In a referendum on 12 and 13 June, Italians will decide whether to amend or keep the present law that controls medically-assisted fertilisation. The law, which was passed by parliament in 2004, is considered one of the most restrictive in Europe.

The referendum poses four questions. Firstly voters must decide whether or not to lift the present ban on scientific research on embryos.

The second question asks if they want to uphold the article that forbids the implantation of more than three embryos at any one time.

The third concerns the rights of the embryo and asks voters to choose whether or not these should be equal to those of a child once born.

The final question asks whether or not to maintain the present provision in the law that allows assisted fertilization treatment only for married couples and forbids the use of sperm and eggs from outside donors.

For the referendum to be valid, more than 50 per cent of those eligible must vote. Leaders of the Roman Catholic Church are asking voters to abstain from the ballot. Broadly speaking the political parties on the centre left are in favour of changing the law and those on the centre right in favour of keeping it as it is.