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Assisted fertility law up for review

Supreme court asked to rule on constitutionality

06 October, 15:05
Assisted fertility law up for review

(ANSA) - Rome, October 6 - A court in Florence is reported to have petitioned Italy's supreme Constitutional Court to rule on Italy's 2003 law on assisted fertility, one of the most restrictive in Europe.

The bill was passed by a bipartisan alliance of Catholics in a battle which also pitted male MPs again female MPs.

At the time, liberal parliamentarians and most female lawmakers accused Catholic politicians of bowing to the Church by adopting a highly restrictive bill which they said placed women's health at risk and would deny sterile couples many of the options that are standard treatment in other European countries.

Supporters of the bill said it respected the rights of the human embryo, preserved the family as the fundamental social unit and ended decades of unregulated practices which have led to notorious cases of 'granny births'.

Under the 2003 law, single parents, same-sex couples and women beyond child-bearing age are banned from using assisted fertility techniques, which is now limited to sterile heterosexual couples who are married or live together.

The law bans the use of donor sperm or eggs and forbids embryos from being frozen or used for scientific research.

It allows a maximum of three eggs to be fertilised at one time and would require them all to be transferred to the womb simultaneously.

It also forbids the screening of embryos for abnormalities or genetic disorders, even for couples with a history of genetic disease, and women would be denied the right to refuse implantation once their eggs have been fertilised.

The law slaps down heavy fines for doctors and patients caught breaking the law. Doctors caught using donated sperms or eggs face fines of up to 600,000 euros and those found treating same-sex couples or singles can be fined up to 400,000 euros.

Stiffer fines and jail terms of up to 20 years are envisaged for human cloning and manipulation of human embryos.

The Constitutional Court is one of Italy's two supreme courts and deals exclusively with issues of constitutionality, while the Court of Cassation hears all other cases.

POLITICIANS BEGIN STAKE THEIR GROUND.

     The possibility that the  Constitutional Court could  overturn the assisted fertility law sparked an immediate and  heated political debate between supporters and critics of the law.
     Supporters of the law in government warned of a risk that 'once again' the supreme court could overturn a law passed by the center right.
     Both the Constitutional Court and the Court of Cassation, have overturned laws passed by the government of Premier Silvio Berlusconi, first among them those shielding the premier from prosecution.
     Carlo Giovanardi, an undersecretary at the premier's office who holds the portfolio for the family, warned of a "democratic emergency" because "judicial initiatives seek to overturn the will of the people as expressed in parliament and through a popular referendum".
     A referendum on the assisted fertility law was held in 2005 and although more people voted in favor of repealing the measure, a quorum was not reached and the vote was not valid.
     Ignazio Marino, an MP in the opposition Democratic Party (PD) and chairman of a parliamentary commission reviewing the national health sector, said "the law was passed six years ago for purely ideological reasons, without taking into account the needs of unfertile couples, women's health and possible advances in medicine".
     "If the world of politics insists on being deaf and blind, or even in bad faith, it's obvious citizens will turn to the courts for justice," he added.

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