By Hilary White

  ROME, April 30, 2008 ( – As a parting gift, the outgoing Italian government has granted permission for eugenic “screening” of embryos in artificial procreation techniques such as in vitro fertilization. The last-minute changes were made in anticipation of the start of the new centre-right government of Silvio Berlusconi, that is expected by many to be more pro-life than the outgoing centre-left coalition.

  IVF centres will now be able to use pre-implantation genetic diagnosis to select against possible genetic abnormalities or disorders. The new guidelines will also allow men with sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV or hepatitis B and C to participate in IVF, even though such diseases could be transmitted to the woman and the baby. 

  Until the changes, the law also outlawed pre-implantation genetic diagnosis on the grounds that once an ovum is fertilized; it becomes an embryonic human being and cannot be killed because of disability or illness.

  The guideline changes do not affect the prohibition on the number of embryos created in IVF, or on singles, same-sex couples and women beyond child-bearing age receiving IVF. 

  Since 2004, Italy has enjoyed some of the strongest pro-life restrictions on artificial reproduction in Europe. The law restricts artificial means of reproduction to heterosexual couples, bans ova or sperm donation, restricts the number of ova that can be fertilized, bans the freezing of embryos and restricts experimental research on living embryos.

  But pro-abortion elements in government have long sought to weaken the protections. In 2005, the law was threatened when the constitutional court ruled that the law regulating in vitro fertilization (IVF) must be put to a referendum to amend those aspects that protect life and the traditional family. Italy’s anti-Catholic extreme left Radical Party collected 500,000 signatures to force the Italian courts to order a referendum on IVF.

  But the law survived the attacks after the Catholic Church alerted the Italian people to the danger, telling them to refuse to vote. The referendum failed when only half the required voters turned out.

  The changes follow court rulings that said the ban on eugenic screening of embryos went beyond the rightful powers of the legislator.

  Read related coverage:
  Italy Likely to Gut Pro-Life Elements of IVF Law by Referendum

  Italian IVF Referendum Ends with Half the Required Vote