Italians offer to adopt doomed embryos

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More than 100 Italian women are said to be willing to adopt some of the thousands of frozen embryos which are due to be destroyed next week, according to a Catholic anti-abortion group.

"We have a list of 100 women from this area and we are receiving more requests from women all over Italy who want to adopt an embryo," said Mario Ciampi, chairman of the Centre for Help to Life in the central Italian town of Massa Carrara. The group is linked to the British pro-life charity Life.

More than 3,300 embryos held in deep freeze in London clinics are due to be destroyed on 31 July because the present law bans the preservation of frozen embryos for more than five years without parental consent.

The announcement by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) caused outrage earlier this week among pro-life organisations. The Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano called it a "pre-natal massacre", and urged married couples to consider "adopting" the embryos as they would "an orphan or an abandoned child".

But the HFEA said that as the law stood, it could do nothing without parental consent and it would be "legally and ethically wrong" to do otherwise".

Dr Ciampi, a physician, said the Italian government should put pressure on Britain to stop the destruction. "We may be just a small drop in the ocean, but we want our government to put pressure on the authorities in England," he said.

"After all, what is the European community for? Is it just about economics and mad cows, or is it also there to deal with ethical and moral problems?"

Dr Ciampi said women of all ages had offered to adopt an embryo, including two elderly nuns. "They were so generous that they forgot about physical constraints. Their bodies may be too old, but their hearts are big enough."

The Pope criticised artificial fertility treatment earlier this year, saying life began at the moment of conception and therefore had fundamental rights.

In this country the Catholic newspaper, the Universe, launched a campaign in association with Life to encourage British couples to come forward.

"We will sort out the law later," said Professor Jack Scarisbrick, chairman of Life. "... we need people to come forward before it is too late."

Prof Scarisbrick attacked the HFEA's attitude: "It's outrageous to suggest that adopting embryos could be morally wrong. It rests on the false belief that these embryos are chattels which belong to the parents. Parents have duties of stewardship, not rights of possession."

But the HFEA stood by its position: "If you think of the other options of using [the embryos] without the consent of individuals or of keeping them stored indefinitely, these options are far less acceptable."

Saturday Story, page 16