The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] ruled [judgment, in French] Tuesday that Italy's ban on embryonic screening is a violation of human rights. According to a press release issued by the court, the ban is a violation of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which allows for the "right to respect for his private and family life." The ECHR found in favor of an Italian couple whose first born suffers from cystic fibrosis. The couple wishes to screen in vitro fertilization (IVF) embryos to avoid having any future children who will suffer from the disease. The statement from the court emphasized what they felt was an inconsistency in Italian policy, noting: "prohibiting the implantation of only those embryos which were healthy, but authorising the abortion of foetuses which showed symptoms of the disease ... left the applicants only one choice, which brought anxiety and suffering: starting a pregnancy by natural means and terminating it if prenatal tests showed the foetus to have the disease." The ECHR ordered the Italian government to pay the applicant €17,500 (USD $21,900) in damages and court costs.
IVF is a type of fertility treatment for couples who have had difficulty conceiving children or wish to avoid passing genetic traits on to their children. Through IVF, a woman's eggs are removed and fertilized outside the body. Successfully fertilized embryos are then implanted into the woman for gestation. Italy defends its ban on embryonic screening by claiming that they wish to "avoid the risk of eugenic abuses," specifically the potential for future "designer babies." The largely Catholic nation has some of the strictest laws in Europe related to artificial procreation.