A public referendum on Italy's controversial assisted reproduction laws will be held on 12 June, Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu announced last week. The ballot was approved by Italy's highest court last year after the country's Radical Party collected the 500,000 signatures necessary to call for a referendum. However, the public will only be asked to vote on some elements of the law, including the rules limiting fertility treatment to heterosexual couples, and those governing embryo research.
Italy's laws, said to be the most restrictive in Europe, were passed in December 2003 to counter the country's reputation for being the 'Wild West' of fertility treatments. Now, the law restricts the provision of fertility treatments to 'stable heterosexual couples' who live together and are of childbearing age, and who are shown to be clinically infertile. Research using human embryos is prohibited, as well as embryo freezing, gamete donation, surrogacy, and the provision of any fertility treatments for single women or same-sex couples.
The law also says that no more than three eggs can be fertilised at any one time, and that any eggs fertilised must all be transferred to the uterus simultaneously, increasing the risk of multiple births. Preimplantation genetic diagnosis and prenatal screening for genetic disorders have also been banned. Fertility clinics across Europe have reportedly seen an increase in the numbers of Italian patients seeking treatment since the legislation came into force.
A recent poll showed that 68 per cent per cent of Italians are in favour of human embryo research for therapeutic purposes. However, the government does not want to see any changes made to the law, and was only forced into holding a referendum after the Radical Party collected sufficient signatures. Now, at least 50 per cent of the electorate must vote in the referendum, if the ballot is to have any legal weight. Critics of the law had been pushing for date in May, fearing that a date closer to summer could affect the vote turnout.