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The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that Italy’s 2004 law on medically assisted reproduction (MAR) “is an infringement of the right to respect for private and family life,” as it forbids pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) of congenital diseases, explainsLa Stampa, which confuses the European Union and the Strasbourg court on its front page. The court ruled in favour of an Italian couple, both of whom are healthy carriers of cystic fibrosis, who wanted to make use of in vitro fertilisation (IVF) procedures to select embryos that were not affected by the condition. However, they were refused access to PGD on the grounds that their illness is not included in the list of the diseases for which Italian law authorises PGD. As a result the couple was faced with two options: to seek medical assistance abroad or get pregnant naturally and then abort should a prenatal examination showed the foetus was affected by the condition, which was something they had already done in 2010 — an incoherence that was specifically criticised by the court. The Italian government has announced that it will appeal the decision.

In an editorial in the Turin newspaper, former ECHR judge Gustavo Zagrebelskyconfirms that the court took into account the fact that —

the vast majority of European countries have authorised PGD to prevent the transmission of congenital diseases (it is only forbidden in Italy, Austria and Switzerland). The ban is unreasonable with regard to the Italian justice system and unjustified in view of the trend in Europe. It further represents an unreasonable infringement of a couple’s right to have their wishes respected. The right to insist on having a healthy child is an area where individual choice should be allowed to predominate and doctors should make the best possible use of research and the advancement of knowledge and human possibilities to assist them.

“The court did not believe in the honesty of the arguments presented by the Italian government, which focused on the risk of eugenics, risks to the mother’s health and issues of conscience for medical staff,”says Gazeta Wyborcza in Warsaw. The newspaper notes that the court’s decision will have an impact on a Polish IVF laws currently being drafted —

… both of these bills, which have yet to submitted to the Sejm [parliament], stipulate that IVF can only be used to treat infertility. As such, they they will make it impossible for fertile couples, who have good reason to fear that their children could be affected by congenital disease, to make use of IVF to ensure pregnancy with a healthy embryo. ECHR rulings only concern countries involved in the relevant cases, however, they also set a precedent that should be followed by states that are members of the Council of Europe. This effectively means that if it adopts a law on IVF, Poland should take the court decision into account.