March 3, 2024

Italian health minister stumbles over stem cell success

Italian Health Minister Girolamo Sirchia

The Italian politician who pushed through Europe’s most restrictive IVF laws has scored an own goal in the controversy over stem cell research. Although his opposition to using human embryonic stem cells and to therapeutic cloning was well-known, Health Minister Girolamo Sirchia called a press conference to praise the historic” cure of a 5-year-old boy suffering from thalassemia. Stem cells taken from the placenta of his twin brothers had saved his life.

However, the Minister may have been ambushed. The twins were actually designer babies, the product of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis and embryo selection carried out at a clinic in Turkey. Mr Sirchia claimed that he had not known the origin of the twins because the parents had asked for privacy. Naturally, this did not satisfy his critics in Parliament and in the IVF lobby, who demanded his resignation.

Italy’s Green Party has also accused Mr Sirchia of a conflict of interest over his decision to create a 400,000 Euro centre for the conservation of 31,000 frozen “orphan” embryos. The centre will be in a Milan hospital where he was a head of department for 28 years. The lesson is clear: when Italian fencers duel over embryos, they use untipped blades.