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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 December, 2003, 18:39 GMT
Italy bans donor sperm and eggs
Parents will have to prove "stable relationship" to apply for IVF treatment
Italy's Senate has overwhelmingly approved a law which bans the use of donor sperm, eggs or surrogate mothers.

It also limits the right to artificial fertilisation to "heterosexual couples in stable relationships", excluding gay couples and single women.

The bill, one of the most restrictive in Europe, has drawn support and criticism from across the party lines.

BBC Rome correspondent Frances Kennedy says that the bill has pitted Catholics against liberals and men against women.

The legislation, passed in the Senate by 169 votes to 90 on Thursday, will now be sent back to the lower house of the parliament for minor adjustments.

This law says 'enough' to the abuses. It recognises that an embryo is a person
Senator Elisabetta Alberti Casellati
Officials say it will remain essentially unchanged.

Under the law, only infertile couples can apply for artificial insemination, and only to government-approved centres.

They have to prove that they are married or in a stable relationship.

Doctors can create up to three embryos for each attempt, and these cannot be frozen or used for research.

Indeed, the freezing of any embryo or sperm is outlawed, as is screening for abnormalities, even in couples who suffer from genetic disorders.

Women are also not allowed to use the sperm of a deceased partner.

Bitter splits

Senator Elisabetta Alberti Casellati, from the governing Forza Italia party, argued that the rights of the embryo will now be protected.

It has aspects which resemble a horror film. I am stunned that serious members of a majority can accept such a monstrous law
Deputy Foreign Minister Margherita Boniver
"This law says 'enough' to the abuses. It recognises that an embryo is a person and as such must be protected from the point of conception," she said.

The bill's opponents say the Senate has bowed to pressure from the Roman Catholic Church and created one of the most backward laws in Europe.

Critics have called it medieval and say it could lead to a ban on abortion.

Deputy Foreign Minister Margherita Boniver - also of Forza Italia - said the law had aspects which resembled a horror film.

There were, however, calls for the Italian legislators to go even further and outlaw abortion altogether.

Seven-time Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti, now a senator for life, pointed out that the law recognises an embryo's legal rights.

"I don't understand, therefore, why it can be killed for up to four months," he said.

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