Italian court orders hospital to implant embryos

Court allows woman to use frozen embryos fertilised by her late husband 19 years ago

In what is sure to prove a controversial ruling, a court in Bologna in Italy today ordered a local hospital to implant a 50-year-old woman with embryos frozen 19 years ago, embryos that had been fertilised by her late husband.

More than 20 years ago, the unnamed couple from Ferrara had resorted to IVF treatment in order to have a child. As part of that treatment, the wife's fertilised eggs were subsequently conserved, or cryo-preserved.

When the Ferrara widow applied to the Sant’Orsola hospital in Bologna to have some of the original eggs implanted two years ago, the hospital had refused because the woman could provide no proof of her late husband’s agreement. Her husband had died in 2011.

At an appeals hearing this morning, the court ordered the Sant’Orsola to reverse its original decision and to carry out the implant as requested by the woman. Furthermore, the court ruled that, given both the woman’s age and the difficulties of assisted procreation, a decision had to be taken quickly since this was a case which could not be allowed to drag on for the “normal length of time for a civil case”.

Inevitably, not everyone was in agreement with the court’s judgement. Catholic daily L’Avvenire, run by the Italian Bishops’ Conference, raised two immediate objections, commenting: “Not only is it difficult to understand the precise state of embryos that have been frozen for 19 years, but this case also raises the problem of a child who will be born an orphan and who was orphaned even before the mother’s pregnancy began.

“Unfortunately, the Bologna case is just one of many cases of artificial fertilisation, a practise which has accustomed us to radical changes in the nature of parenthood.”