April 20, 2024

Italians wrangle over bioethics committee

A shake-up of Italy’s national advisory body for bioethics has led to bitter wrangling, especially over stem cell research, according to a report in Nature. The new Prime Minister, Romano Prodi, recently trimmed membership on the National Bioethics Committee from 52 to 40 and increased the number of women from 25% to nearly 40%. Catholic members still constituted well over half. Prodi also appointed a former president of the supreme court, Francesco Casavola, as chairman. Two secular members and one Catholic became vice-presidents.

Almost immediately, there were disputes. Many members wanted to change the voting system from a simple majority to a system that canvasses all views. Then three members criticised Casavola in an internal memo for being too chummy with Catholics, and this was quickly leaked to the press. Casavola offered to resign, but Prodi persuaded him to stay on. He then brought in a new team of vice- presidents: a rabbi, a Catholic with secular views, and a strong opponent of embryonic stem cell research. Italian stem cell scientists are pessimistic about the future of science in their country.