A piece in today’s Times:
A 43-year-old woman has won the right to implant eggs fertilised with the sperm of her ex-husband against his will in a first for the Italian justice system.
Judges in the town of Santa Maria Capua Vetere, in the southern region of Campania, said that a 2004 law on medically assisted pregnancy allowed people to withdraw their consent up to, but not after, the moment that an egg was fertilised.
The woman, an office worker identified only as “Carola” in newspapers, said she hoped that her legal victory would help other women. “I believe in good conscience that I have done something useful for lots of other women in my situation and for the many individuals conceived in frozen test tubes, to whom until now the law did not offer an alternative,” she said in a statement through her lawyer.
“It wasn’t a choice taken lightly. I am aged more than 40 and for love of my ex-husband, who had health problems, I decided to resort to MAP [medically assisted procreation].
“There were complications and the first attempt didn’t work out. Then he decided to put an end to our marriage.”
The woman said that the embryos had been created in a context of love and she did not want to abandon them in a test tube. “I decided to bring them into the world in any case, even as a single woman . . . I am glad that the judge granted me and our child, for the moment only conceived, the right at least to give it a try.”
Gianni Baldini, the woman’s lawyer, said that the case set an important precedent because four in ten Italian couples separated within five years and 20 per cent of them had fertility problems. “The numbers are large,” Baldini said. “If the law is not changed there is a risk that similar situations will occur even years later. This case has opened people’s eyes . . . and fertility centres will have to change their consent forms.”
About 20 years ago a court in Bologna gave an opposite ruling, upholding the right of the potential father not to have a child.
Baldini, an expert in family law and bio-ethics, is representing a potential father who finds himself on the other side of the fence. He said that in that case the situation was being exploited for economic gain, while the case decided in Santa Maria Capua Vetere last month involved a woman who had made sacrifices for her husband but had been abandoned for a younger woman.
Baldini said that the court ruling could imply a significant economic burden for the reluctant father, who would be responsible for maintenance until the child was financially independent. Courts have recognised parental responsibility for children lasting more than 30 years. [J4MB emphasis]
“If the father lives in Italy it will be hard for him to avoid paying,” Baldini said. “The system is very strict, with the possibility of diverting part of his salary. And he lives in a southern community, which would be very disapproving if he refused to pay.”
Alfonso Maria Irollo, the director of several fertility clinics, welcomed the ruling and suggested that the principle of prioritising the rights of the embryo could be extended to cases where a father opposed a mother’s wish for an abortion. He said: “When a couple doesn’t agree the law should always protect the rights of the unborn child.”
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