An Italian gynaecologist persuaded a young woman not to have an abortion so that he could sell her baby and pocket €25,000 (£21,000), according to police in Naples.
The doctor, Andrea Cozzolino, 57, was arrested this week on suspicion of corruption and abuse of office, after evidence emerged that two years ago he persuaded a 17-year-old student to carry her child to term, telling her that he would pass the baby on to a childless couple.
However, it is alleged that he didn’t tell the mother that the couple he had found would pay him €25,000 to deliver the child to them.
The young woman, who became pregnant by her student boyfriend, was delayed in seeking a legal abortion (paid for by Italy’s health service) because of her age and her refusal to allow her parents to be contacted, according to Alessandro Tocco, Caserta’s deputy police chief.
Hold-ups and bureaucracy meant that the student was already six months’ pregnant, and past the point where an abortion is legal under Italian law, when she approached Dr Cozzolino, whom she had heard might perform an illegal termination for her.
When she said she was unable to afford the €6,000 fee the gynaecologist wanted to perform the procedure, he instead offered to deliver the baby free of charge at the Santa Lucia di San Giuseppe Vesuviano clinic if she carried the baby to term and allowed him to put the infant up for adoption by a childless couple.
The couple, a 54-year-old man and 48-year-old woman, are being investigated for breaching Italy’s adoption laws, alongside the doctor.
Dr Cozzolino appeared to have planned the scheme carefully. He ensured the adoptive mother was in hospital at the same time as the 17-year-old gave birth, so that the newborn could be passed to her new family immediately.
But within a few months, the biological mother of the child was alarmed to discover that the child had nonetheless been listed as hers on local birth records. In a panic, the young woman fabricated a story that she had been raped to explain her pregnancy. After the investigation that followed, the baby was removed from the couple and given to another family.
Investigators wire-tapped the couple, recording conversations in which the pair demanded their money back from the gynaecologist. The doctor claimed it wasn’t his fault – and protested that the scheme had failed because local health officials had filled in the birth register very quickly, before he’d had time to intervene.
Dr Cozzolino added that he wouldn’t be able to repay the money even if he wanted to, because he’d already used it to pay off gambling debts.
The gynaecologist’s medical association, L’Ordine dei Medici, told the Adnkronos news agency that it had suspended him and had contacted magistrates urgently requesting details of the charges, which the association’s spokesman, Bruno Ravera, said were of “an unprecedented seriousness”.
Many pregnant women in Italy have difficulty finding doctors who will agree to abortions before the legal time limit. According to a report last year by the then Minister for Health, Renato Balduzzi, the number of terminations is falling because an increasing number of medical practitioners refuse to perform them.