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Italian Pro-Life movement defends three frozen embryos

While the Italian Parliament continues to debate the law on artificial insemination, a new case has caught the country's public attention given the legal void on the matter. Through an urgent procedure at the beginning of April this year, a woman asked a judge in Bologna to allow the implantation of three frozen embryos produced by artificial insemination with her husband. Now she and her husband are in the process of being divorced, and the biological father is requesting the destruction of the embryos, while the woman wants the unborn children to live.

The real problem is to know if these embryos are considered "property," like a house or a car, when it comes to divorce proceedings, or if the law is to consider each of them as an individual to be protected.

The lack of legal definition in Italy is due to the fact that a bill addressing these and similar cases is yet to be approved. Given this situation, the Bologna Pro-Life Movement has taken matters in hand and established itself in the legal defence of the three embryos, assuming the responsibility to safeguard them. They presented a technical-juridical memorandum on April 18 to the judge, on the defenceless position of the frozen embryos.

The movement supports the woman, who is requesting implantation in order to give the unborn children a chance to survive. In the memorandum presented to the judge, the movement states that the case is identical to one that took place in Tennessee in 1989, when the judge assigned the embryos to the woman, in keeping with their right to life. The well-known geneticist Jerome Lejeune was called to testify. His statements were later published in a volume entitled "The Embryo. A Sign of Contradiction."

According to the pro-life memorandum, an embryo can also be classified as a "child," as it can be acknowledged by the biological parents who, from the moment the "in vitro" fertilisation takes place, can give it a name. Because of the paradoxes resulting from the new situations created by artificial insemination, if the Bologna woman were not married, or had not generated the embryos with the husband's semen, she could have gone to the civil registry and declared the embryos as her children, giving them her surname immediately and also individual names. But since they have a father, and this is the paradox, the embryos are reduced to the category of mere property, things being disputed and, therefore, easy to discard.

The memorandum refers to the opinion of the National Bio-Ethics Committee, according to which, from the moment of conception each human being must be treated as a person. It also refers to the jurisprudence of the Constitutional Court, which affirms the right to life of the conceived. It also refers to article 1 of law 194 on abortion that obliges the Italian Republic to safeguard human life "from its beginning."

If the embryo is already a child, the father's right to choose cannot be admitted. The father does not have the right but the duty to guarantee the child's life, as established in articles 30 of the Constitution and 147 of the Civil Code. The technical-juridical memorandum of the Pro-Life Movement states that, according to constitutional jurisprudence, the state of need that makes abortion licit cannot be applied to the case being examined.

"To whom should the frozen embryos be entrusted?" the newspaper "Avvenire," of the Italian Episcopal Conference queries, commenting on the case. "To the father who wants their destruction, or to the mother who wants to give them a hope of life? Perhaps the Bologna judge should take recourse to Solomon's solution. In the dispute over a child, the wise biblical King was able to recognise the real mother, who is capable of denying her own good for that of the child."


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This Page was Last Updated on Thursday, 06 July 2000.