The European rights court Tuesday condemned Italy for its ban on screening embryos for genetic conditions, saying its laws leave couples wanting to avoid passing on diseases little room for manoeuvre.
The condemnation from the European Court of Human Rights relates to the case of an Italian couple, both carriers of cystic fibrosis, who were blocked from using in vitro fertilization (IVF) to select embryos that were not affected by the condition.
According to the Strasbourg-based court, the case highlights "the incoherence of the Italian legislative system that bans the implantation of only healthy embryos while allowing the abortion of foetuses with genetic conditions."
The law "only gives the plaintiffs one option, full of anxiety and suffering," said the court. "Get pregnant naturally and then abort when a prenatal examination shows the foetus is affected" with a condition, ECHR said in a statement.
The Italian couple chose to abort their second child in 2010 after learning that their unborn foetus had the condition.
They then requested IVF treatment so doctors could check for traces of cystic fibrosis before going ahead with a new pregnancy, a process known as pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) which is illegal in Italy.
Italy argues that its laws protect the health of women and children and discourage deliberate genetic alteration that critics of PGD worry would lead to so-called "designer babies".
The ECHR awarded 15,000 euros in damages to the couple but rejected a further claim of discrimination.
Of 32 Council of Europe member states examined, only Italy, Austria and Switzerland ban PGD testing, the court said.