Severino Antinori, a doctor known for helping women in their 60s to get pregnant, has recently been put under house arrest and accused of performing an unconsented operation and stealing an egg from an unidentified nurse working at his practice. The doctor, whose practice is settled close to the Vatican walls, criticized a bill approved in 2004 by the Italian Parliament advocating for some of Europe’s most restrictive IVF laws. Whilst the doctor rejects the allegations against him as untrue and unjustified, the case has fanned the flames surrounding the already sensitive topic of IVF treatment in Italy.
Italy has created, under the previous Prime Minster Berlusconi, some of the harshest IVF laws in Europe; the most notoriously restrictive one being that only a heterosexual, married couple may seek the treatment. Many have argued that these laws reflect heavily the influence of the Catholic Church.
Can perceptions of your own child be different if you created them through IVF, as opposed to a naturally conceived one?
Pope Francis himself has deemed IVF to be, in his opinion, ‘a sin’, and that creating children through IVF rather than accepting them ‘as a gift’ is ‘playing with life’. So what is a person to do if they are infertile? According to Italy, a couple struggling to get pregnant may only be assisted with the process of IVF if they are married and heterosexual; a family advocated by the Church to be the only sinless one.
Is such a law just? Was it right for Berlusconi to create restrictions in law, which should arguably reflect as much as possible the entire population, but actually concur heavily with the views of Catholicism?
The process of IVF may spur discussions surrounding the ethics of bringing a child into the world through means of science. One argument posed by Marie Hillard, Director of Bioethics and policy at the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia, told Religion News Service that “if a couple decides they have the right to a child, the child has become a commodity”. Can perceptions of your own child be different if you created them through IVF, as opposed to a naturally conceived one? Or, does the time, emotional stress and money needed for an IVF or in a natural conception, show desire to have and love a child is extremely powerful no matter the means?
According to a report by the ‘Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists’, the optimal age for childbearing is 20 to 35, as the risks incurred during pregnancy are deemed to be much lower than say, a person of 40 bearing a child.
is it fair to bear a child at an age where personal medical conditions are of a higher risk?
Dr. Antinori has been awarded for his work in fertility treatments with women in the ages of 40s-60s. The success rate for women undergoing the treatment is at just about 5 percent (NHS) in the UK, and increased risks can include risks of giving birth to a baby with a congenital abnormality. One could pose that increasing the risk of bringing a child that is more likely to suffer, into the world, is unethical. However, one might also pose that refusing to bring a child into the world simply because there is a greater risk of congenital abnormalities is even more unethical and less accepting of children with disabilities.
One woman helped by Doctor Antinori is Rossanna Della Corte, aged 62 when she became pregnant with the assistance of Antinori, following the loss of her 17-year-old son. Yet, the positivity of another child bringing joy to her life goes in contrasts the question; is it fair to bear a child at an age where personal medical conditions are at a higher risk? Some might say no, that parents are restricted in the childhood they can provide. Others might say such a view is prejudicial and judgmental; parenthood is not a matter of age but love.
Biologically, it is more likely that a woman will successfully bear a child at a younger age as opposed to an older one. If there is a possibility to assist a woman who is restricted to her own biology in becoming a mother; if there is a way to allow people the beauty of having a child where biology cannot, shouldn’t this be highly advocated? And, in the case of Catholicism, which preaches for life and for the bringing up of children, isn’t it a furthering of the right of life to help create children where biologically but for science it would not be possible? If anything, science and religion are, in this case, going hand in hand.
Of course, the Catholic Church might argue that the furthering of a creation of life through IVF is only sinless when done by a heterosexual and married couple; as this is the sinless way for people to conceive children. IVF allows for various people to become parents: heterosexual couples, polyamorous relationships, gay or lesbian couples, single parents… In a world which is becoming increasingly gender fluid and free from sexual restrictions, IVF can bring the gift of a child to anyone.
Is an unmarried heterosexual couple with children less sinful than a lesbian couple with children?
Who has the right to deem which person can be a parent and which can’t? Isn’t deciding who can and cannot have children in itself ‘playing with life’? A law allowing for greater opportunity of IVF treatment is, objectively, the fairest one.
It is a sin to be unmarried and engage in intercourse. And yet, plenty of unmarried couples are gifted with parenthood every day. Is an unmarried heterosexual couple with children less sinful than a lesbian couple with children?
The point is that the treatment of IVF does not discriminate. And the law should not discriminate either.
Dolce and Gabbana were under heavy criticism just last year, including from Elton John, after they claimed to the Italian Magazine ‘Panorama’ that they viewed babies born through IVF treatment as ‘synthetic’ children. They further advocated against gay couples having children but have since apologized for their comments.
The chance to bring more children into the world to families waiting to love them seems like a beautiful thing.
Are these views still predominant in Italy? Or, as Elton John put it, are they “judgmental” and perhaps a little archaic? One might argue that the restrictive laws of IVF are.
The case against this fertility doctor, whether true or not, does raise questions surrounding what some of the restrictions of IVF are and what they should be.
Dr. Antinori himself advocates for the use of cloning to help further fertility treatments. The EU itself has stated that cloning in animals frequently causes abnormalities, difficult births and even neonatal deaths due to ‘unusually large offspring’ resulting from the cloning procedure.
Such practices raise ethical animal welfare issues.
Even with all the controversy surrounding the treatments, Italy performs the fourth highest amount of IVF cycles in Europe, with 63,777 cycles in 2011; approximately 4000 more than the UK. It was estimated in 2009 that 87 percent of the Italian population identified as Catholic, but that only 24 per cent of those people actively participated in Catholic worship services.
Even if the percentage of Catholics participating directly in worship services were higher, the law should be inclusive of all. Discriminatory laws are a concept that is being, and should be, left behind more each day. A child born of IVF is no less capable of being loved. A child born to a gay couple is no less capable of being loved. And a child born of IVF is certainly no less a child than one from natural conception.
The chance to bring more children into the world to families waiting to love them seems like a beautiful thing. Whilst there should be restrictions and careful policies in place in the procedure for concerns of health and safety, there should be an opportunity to have a child for anyone capable of supporting and loving them, no matter how they are brought into the world.