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Sunday, 30 June, 2002, 09:59 GMT 10:59 UK
Italian fertility bill 'danger to women'
Embryo
The bill proposes to ban the freezing of embryos
European infertility experts have attacked fertility treatment legislation moving through the Italian parliament, saying it is unethical and could endanger the lives of women and their babies.


This means a woman will be put at risk of giving birth to triplets, with all the risks to mothers and babies involved

Scientists' statement
Leaders of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE), meeting in Vienna on the eve of their annual medical conference on Sunday, said the proposed law would encourage unproven techniques and risky multiple pregnancies.

The bill bans the freezing of embryos, considered in other countries to offer couples the best chance of achieving success.

The proposal, which would be Italy's first law regulating fertility treatments, cleared the lower Chamber of Deputies earlier this month and will go before the Italian Senate within the next few months for final approval.

For some 20 years, the fierce resistance of Roman Catholic legislators - in line with the Church's idea that suppressing a human cell's right to life is immoral - had kept parliament from making any kind of law on artificial procreation.

Egg harvest

Normally, doctors start by giving women fertility drugs to stimulate their ovaries to produce more eggs than usual.

The eggs are harvested from the women and fertilised to create embryos.

The doctors then implant one or two of the embryos in the womb and freeze the others to use the next time, if the first try fails.

Without embryo freezing, the only other proven approach is to harvest eggs each time. The procedure is painful and overdoing fertility drugs can cause problems.

"It is unethical to subject women to a procedure that is of low efficacy and the safety of which is still a concern," said Dr Hans Evers, chairman of the ESHRE.

Risk

The Italian bill says that up to three eggs can be fertilised and that all embryos that result from the fertilisation must be transferred to the womb at the same time. None may be stored for later use.

The scientists say this means a woman will be put at risk of giving birth to triplets, with all the risks to mothers and babies involved.

The Italian bill proposes the freezing of eggs and sperm as an alternative to embryo freezing.

But while sperm defrosts well, egg freezing is difficult.

Failures by previous legislatures over the past 20 years to pass laws have left a vacuum on such areas as upper-age limits for recipients of donated eggs.

Reports from the 2002 Eshre conference in Vienna

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08 May 02 | Health
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05 Apr 02 | Science/Nature
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29 Aug 00 | Europe
31 Mar 99 | Medical notes
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