The four point referendum on artificial insemination and stem cell research may have addressed too complicated an issue for most voters, according to Prime Minister Berlusconi, a point which might explain the incredibly low voter turnout. Only 25 percent of the total voting population appeared at the polls last Sunday and Monday, obviously not reaching the 50+1 percent necessary to pass the referendum.
The referendum had hoped to increase access to artificial insemination and stem cell research in Italy. The current Italian law, passed under Berlusconi’s centre-right government, is one of the most restrictive in Europe.
With the referendum, Italians were being asked whether they wanted to lift various bans. If the yes vote had won, the bans on donor sperm and eggs, on scientific research on embryos, on embryo screening for couples with hereditary diseases, and on the rule than only three embryos per treatment can be created (all of which must be implanted at the same time), would have all been lifted.
Another important factor in determining voter turnout might have been the Vatican’s call to boycott the vote on moral grounds.
Advocates of the referendum have already organised an assembly to discuss the outcome of this referendum. Women’s groups and Italy’s Radical Party collected thousands of signatures just to have the referendum, to have the chance to vote. They claim that Italian couples with fertility problems are forced to go abroad for treatment, and so poorer couples who cannot afford to do so have been discriminated against.