Sunday, June 12, 2005

BBC NEWS | Europe | Italy politicians defy Church

Vote on fertility law tears at Italians - Europe - International Herald Tribune

The BBC one is much much shorter and probably easier to digest but the IHT one delves deeper into the issue I think.

In brief: Italy had one of the most liberal laws with regards to assisted fertility, with a doctor aiding a 60 year old woman to conceive. As a result, the legislation was amended to make it a lot more restrictive. In particular, a ban on donor sperm and eggs; a ban on scientific research on embryos; a ban on embryo screening for couples with hereditary diseases; the rule that only three embryos per treatment can be created, all of which have to be implanted at the same time.

As a result, this has forced many infertile couples to skip national lines to go to neighbouring countries to get pregnant. It seems that the current methods was mandated and practiced by Italy was only about 55% as effective as the newer methods practiced elsewhere.

A referendum is to be held to amend these laws but the cinch is that there needs to be at least a 50% turnout which was result in the RelSocCon (Religious-Social Conservatives) to call for a boycott of the vote in hopes that this would invalidate it regardless of the result.

Italy is fundamentally a Catholic Country and considering that the Vactican is located within its territory, the influence of the Roman Catholic Church, one would think is pretty strong. Unlike France, which is a very extreme Secular Humanist state i.e. one whereby the state actively interfers in Religion to protect the State from it, I do not think Italy is quite in the same category.

The two reason I hesitate to overstate the influence of the Church is:

1. The nature of religiousity in the EU. Unlike the USA, the pattern in most developed nations is a lessening of religious feelings, aligeance, intensity and in particular the general inability of parties of Faith Based Organisations to manipulate that at a political level. A pertinent example would be that of abortion, the existence and the right of women to have a safe abortion is hardly an issue in the EU and most of the world except for the US where Supreme Court nominations seems to revolve around that of Roe v. Wade, the seminal case striking down blanket bans of abortions in the first two trimesters as Unconstitutional.

2. Spain. We saw what a determined government could do even in the face of religious opposition when PM Jose amended the laws and legalised gay marriages. Arguably, Spain is remarkably similar to Italy such that it is not inconceivable that such an approach could be adopted and made to work. The only difference I can think of is that there might seem to be more popular support for the issue in Spain then it seems for Italy. Four hours after polls opened, only 4.6% of the electorate had cast their votes. This despite the seeming polarisation of society that has occured because of this issue. Or maybe, it's a reflection of abstaining from the referendum as a manner of defeating the vote.

My feelings on the extent to which religion should play a part in politics is pretty clear. While I do not deny the right of RelSocCon to make their voices heard, at the end of the day it is simply not a good way to make public policy. At best it's the first step of determining where your feelings lie. Ideally, logic and rationality should come in after that but heck, who am I kidding?

But what I do find slightly disturbing is the manner in which they are attempting to defeat the vote by suppressing voter turnout. After all, it is the duty of a citizen to make his opinions known especially when it comes to a single issue referendum. There exist as a result possibility of the majority choosing to amend the laws could nevertheless be dismissed simply because people were either too lazy to vote or did not do so as part of electoral politics. I think in this manner, the Church is doing a disservice to the Democratic institutions as well as the electoral system by not in turn campaigning instead for a no vote and using that to demonstrate the strength of popular opposition.

But really though, at the end of the day what would defeating the referendum really do? Considering that society seems to be split down the middle, one cannot claim that the government is sending a strong message against say the use of embryos in science. And let's not even pretend it's going to prevent infertile couples from seeking treatments. Instead you either force them to go overseas (just like how Ireland exports its abortions) or turn to the substandard fertility treatments instead. Worse still, by reducing the chances of 'catching' the first time, you might actually end up destroying more embryos that they claim they want to save.

While I can appreciate the desire for some people to want to 'save' an mass of unfertilised cells (which would hence never develop into 'life') from being used as biological material. Nevertheless, it seems odd considering that there really is no dicotomy between that and fertility treatments or even if there were (some treatments apparently cause multiple pregnancies which the woman must decide which to abort to save the rest), it's not inconceivable that legislation could be made to address those particular problems instead of the current driftnet ones.

And really, what's with the prohibition of doners bit? Should women over the age of 40 be allowed to be mothers? Doner eggs are really the only chance of success these women have. And better still, it means that there is less chances of getting genetic diseases or down syndrome babies. Now I want to make clear that I have absolutely nothing against such people or parents who decided to go ahead anyway. BUT not everyone wants to do so and I think as long as abortions are still legal, the parents ought to be able to decide whether they want to have the child or not (especially those born with congentital defects and terminal genetic illnesses). Furthermore, this goes beyond the parents' capacity to care (emotionally, physically and financially) and definately beyond the state's ability to do so in place of the parent.

It's one thing to force a woman to carry an unwanted baby and then claim that she can always give it up for adoption. I think it's morally unjustified and infringes on a person's individual freedom to choose and determine what's in their best interest (the fetus has no rights till viability sets in and even then it might be displaced by other factors). But more than that, I think it's also cruel and inhumane. And let's face it, not many people who wish to adopt want to care for a baby which has a host of problems. While I salute those who do, it's an unfortunate fact that most end up languishing unwanted.

Well, fortunately, living in Singapore means that somethings are protected, in particular a women's right to choose and fertility rights of couples.



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