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European Court of Human Rights denounces Italy's ban on PGD as 'disproportionate'

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Italy's legal restrictions on the use of PGD to detect genetic abnormalities in embryos has violated the rights of an Italian couple. ESHRE welcomes the court's decision, and hopes now that the use of PGD in Italy will once again be decided by medical need, not by legal restriction.

The case before the Court concerned a fertile Italian couple who are healthy carriers of the cystic fibrosis gene and wished, with the help of PGD, to avoid transmitting the disease to their children. Their first child had already been born with cystic fibrosis.

Italy's Law 40, approved by Parliament in 2004, had outlawed PGD along with embryo freezing and embryo research. However, changes to the law following a Supreme Court ruling in 2009 allowed the reintroduction of PGD, but only in infertile couples. Thus, fertile couples carrying genetic diseases - who comprise the majority of PGD patients - were still denied treatment.

Passing its judgement on 28th August, the Court concluded that Italy's "interference" with the applicants’ right to respect for their private and family life was "disproportionate". The Court also noted the inconsistency of an Italian law which on the one hand denies a couple access to embryo screening but on the other allows the termination of a pregnancy if the foetus shows symptoms of the same disease.

The Italian government had tried to justify its ban on PGD on the grounds that it was necessary to protect the health of the mother and child and avoid any risk of eugenic abuses. This had also been the Italian government's argument in favour of Law 40 back in 2004, when ESHRE too had expressed its formal opposition.

Since then, Law 40 has continued to be eroded by legal challenge. In 2009, the requirement to fertilise a maximum of three oocytes in IVF was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, and some concessions were made to embryo freezing. "Now," says ESHRE's past chairman Luca Gianaroli, "we hope that this latest ruling will put pressure on Italian legislators to change Law 40 once again and allow PGD to be available to those couples who need it."

You can read the Court's judgement here.