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Italy court strikes down ban on embryonic research

A court in Florence on Wednesday struck down Law 40 [text, PDF, in Italian], Italy's nationwide ban on the use of embryos for scientific purposes. The panel of judges ruled that the law is an unconstitutional violation of fundamental rights regarding health [ANSA report] and the freedom of research. The case was originally brought by a couple who wished to donate leftover embryos to science after the couple finished a series of legal fertility treatments. Italy has defended its ban [Reuters report] on embryonic screening by claiming that it wishes to avoid risks of eugenic abuses and the potential for future "designer babies." The largely Catholic nation has some of the strictest artificial procreation laws in Europe. The case will next move up to be considered by the Italian Constitutional Court [official website].

Law 40 has been controversial due to its ban on in vitro fertilization, a type of fertility treatment for couples who have had difficulty conceiving children or wish to avoid passing genetic traits on to their children. In November the Italian government appealed a ruling [JURIST report] by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website], which struck down [judgment, in French] parts of Law 40 in August. In that case, a couple already having one child with cystic fibrosis brought suit after seeking an embryo screening as a precautionary method for future children. The ECHR ruling that denying the couple access to such a screening violates Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights for failing to recognize the right to privacy and family life. The ECHR ordered the Italian government to pay the couple €17,500 (USD $21,900) in damages and court fees.

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