The European Court for Human Rights (CEDH) declared on August 27, 2015, by a decree of the High court, that the Italian Government could forbid giving human embryos to research which leads to their destruction, because this domain allows for an ample margin of appreciation, in a context where there is no European consensus on this sensitive question about the destiny of donated embryos which are not meant for implantation.

The judgment came following a request by an Italian woman who contested the law forbidding the donation of embryos for scientific research.

In 2002, the claimant, Ademo Parrillo requested in vitro fertility practices for fecundation. Following this procedure, there were 5 embryos frozen, and none of them implanted. In November, 2003, her companion died. Not wishing to continue her project to become pregnant, she decided to donate the embryos to scientific research. After several oral requests, she made her request in writing on December 1st, 2011 to the Conservation Center for embryos who refused, indicating that the research was forbidden and thus sanctioned by Article 13 of law 40 dating from 2004. This Italian law forbids freezing and destruction of embryos. In article 1, the law concerning in vitro fecundation “guarantees the rights of all the persons concerned, including the subject thus conceived”.  

Mrs. Parrillo thus went to the CEDH on July 26, 2011. She alleged that “the interdiction, set out by article 134 of Law 40 of February 19, 2004, to give embryos conceived by medically assisted procreation to scientific research, was incompatible with her right to see her private life and her goods respected, both rights which are protected respectively by article 8 of the Convention and by article 1 of the Protocol 1 of the Convention. She also complained about a violation of freedom of expression, guaranteed by article 10 of the Convention, in that scientific research constitutes in her opinion a fundamental aspect. “

The request was accepted on the grounds that article 8 (right to respect of private life and family) from the convention of Human Rights, was applicable in this case under the title “private life”, as the embryos in question contained the genetic material of the claimant, and were thus a part of her identity.

By a vote of 16 against one, the Court reasoned that there was no violation of Article 8 of the convention of Human Rights. On the question of the interference in the privacy of the mother, the Court stated that Italy can legitimately forbid the destruction of human embryos.

On the question of property right, the High Court unanimously rejected the argument on the grounds that “human embryos cannot be reduced to “goods” on which certain people could have a property right”. The law only recognizes 2 categories: the “goods” and the “persons”. So then, observes the ECLJ who intervened in this affair and submitted its’ observations to the court: “logically, human embryos must be persons since they are not goods. The court abstains from saying it, or from denouncing it.”

The court reminded that there is no consensus in embryo research, according to the countries concerned – and several European countries forbid this type of research – and the limits imposed by certain European laws are targeted to prohibit excesses in this field.