World: Italy is fertile ground for 'unusually excellent' semen scam

Italy may be notorious for its lack of legislation on reproduction technology - IVF, artificial insemination and the rest - but it does have a curious article in its criminal code concerning the "attempted spread of epidemics". So when police in Florence suspected one of the country's most prominent sperm and ovocyte banks of peddling infected materials, they wasted no time closing the establish- ment down and throwing three of its practitioners into jail.

Thus Italy has been landed with yet another medical scandal, in which respectable professionals in white coats are being accused of charlatan quackery. But in the country that boasts a 62-year-old mother and a foetus carried to term by its father's sister, all perfectly legally, the wonder is that any criminal charge could be found to put a stop to the unseemly business.

The heart of the investigation concerns an unemployed 37-year-old factory worker who began donating sperm on a regular basis four years ago, even though he had tested positive for herpes simplex and for hepatitis C. According to the investigators, the clinic was so keen to exploit the commercial potential of the man's "unusually excellent quality" sperm that it falsified his test results for its records. The man, whose name has not been released, was paid pounds 30 to pounds 40 a go for hundreds of donations, each of which was then sold on for pounds 150.

Italy's 200-odd fertility clinics have been thrown into panic as they check their stocks and invite patients to undergo extended tests.

At the Florence clinic, the police discovered a series of hair-raising anomalies, unthinkable in any country with an adequate legal framework for experiments in fertilisation but very possibly unpunishable in Italy for the time being. The infected donor could, in theory, have fathered dozens of children, in clear contravention of normal ethical practice, whereby the sperm of any individual donor must not be used more than a handful of times.

The clinic, police say, also encouraged dozens of cash-strapped women, including prostitutes, to donate their ova for money, but failed to warn them of the possible side effects. One drug, administered to heighten fertility, caused two 30-year-old donors to experience premature menopause.

Every aspect would cause a seizure among fertility watchdogs in the rest of Europe. In Britain, paying donors more than a nominal fee - currently pounds 15 - is considered highly unethical. Volunteers are screened for possible infectious diseases, and quizzed about their medical history. Some 80 per cent of those who come forward are rejected for one reason or another.

Women wanting to become pregnant by artificial insemination can express preferences about the genetic profile of the donor, but there is nothing like the questionnaire distributed by the Florence clinic, in which would- be mothers are asked whether they want straight hair or curly, green eyes or blue, dark skin or light.

Legislation is particularly tricky because of the intransigence of the Church and of the various Christian Democrat political parties, but after much delay, parliament is hammering out a law to regulate this most delicate of health sectors - including a motion to abolish the collection of sperm for profit.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

Ashdown Group: IT Manager - Salesforce / Reports / CRM - North London - NfP

£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and reputable Not for Profit o...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger & Credit Control Assistant

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Ledger & Credit Control...

Recruitment Genius: Project Administrator

£16000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Administrator is requ...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn