Italians are voting today and tomorrow (Sunday and Monday) in a national referendum on bioethics issues. They must decide whether they want to lift the following restrictions:

  • a ban on donor sperm and eggs;
  • a ban on scientific research on embryos;
  • a ban on embryo screening for couples with hereditary diseases;
  • the rule that only three embryos per treatment can be created, all of which have to be implanted at the same time.

All these bans and restrictions was put in a law passed last year by the Berlusconi government and contested by women’s groups and the Radical party which managed to collect 4 million signatures to call for the referendum.

The Vatican has come strongly against that new change, and has called for Italians to boycott the vote (which requires a 50% participation rate for the law to be changed). This will thus be a test of their influence on Italian politics:

Many top politicians have failed to speak their mind on the issue, choosing to be cautious in order not to alienate the Catholic electorate and the Vatican.

Mr Berlusconi has not indicated whether and how he will vote, and opposition leader and former EU Commission President Romano Prodi has only said he will vote, without specifying which way.

They have been strong enough to scare politicians, but will they scare voters?

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