Some 200 Italian doctors took to the streets of Rome on Tuesday to insist on their right to professional secrecy and refusal to betray suspected illegal immigrants to the authorities.
"We Are Doctors, Not Spies," read many protesters' T-shirts at the rally, part of a national day of protest against a controversial bill that would require doctors to inform on patients they suspect of being in Italy illegally.
The bill sponsored by the anti-immigration Northern League was adopted by the Senate early last month as part of new security legislation despite harsh criticism from health workers and Catholic groups and is now before parliament.
The humanitarian group Medecins sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) led calls for Tuesday's protests.
"It's very dangerous because illegals, out of fear, won't go to the hospital any more, or see a doctor, and they will be left out of the health system," Giancarlo Santone, a Rome psychiatrist, said at the protest in Rome.
Noting that the law would deny an undocumented new mother the right to register the birth of her baby, he said: "The government wants to create a climate of fear and discourage foreigners from coming" to Italy.
Stefano Guidi, a doctor at the Policlinico Umberto I hospital here, said: "In Italy, with this amendment, foreigners will simply have nothing left but the right to die."
Conservative Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who returned to power last May partly on an anti-immigration platform, has introduced a series of controversial measures to crack down on illegal immigration.