Friday, February 19, 2010

Can we say that a parliament is bankrupt or that prostitutes populate it?

After blogging about Lessig's remarks on the US Congress, I thought about what would happen if an Italian professor were to write the same things about the Italian Parliament. Would he or she be considered to be a thinker, an intellectual, who has something to contribute to the political debate? Would he or she be asked to talk or write on major networks, magazine, and radio programs? Well (the timing could not have been more perfect) Beppe Grillo, the controversial comedian turned into political commentator (The Guardian ranked his blog at number 9 among the world's 50 most powerful blogs in the world) posted the answer to my question. And thankfully the answer is that, despite all, freedom of political speech is still alive in Italy.

Back in June of 2009, Mr. Grillo addressed the parliamentary commission in charge of constitutional reform. He was invited to present and discuss a citizen's initiative (a citizen's petition proposing a constitutional amendment) led by Mr. Grillo himself. During his talk, Mr. Grillo made the following statement with regard to how candidates were chosen to be on the ballot:
Six people selected those who were to become Member of Parliament. They chose 993 among their friends, lawyers, and, pardon my language, some prostitutes, and they got them elected.
Actually the word used for 'prostitute' was 'zoccola,' which sounds more like 'whore' or 'hoe.' 19 MPs (18 women and 1 man) pressed charges. As required by law, the prosecutor followed up on the charges and requested to a judge that he dismissed the charges. The judge agreed. In dismissing any charges against Mr. Grillo,
she ruled that:
  1. the statement could not be construed of slender or defamation directed to any specific MP;
  2. the statement could be construed as defamatory to the Parliament as a body but that the its chairman or any appointed agent did not press charges and therefore no investigations could be conducted (under Italian law, defamation can only be investigated if the victims activates the process)
Ultimately, the judge ruled that Mr. Grillo's statement was an exercise of his freedom of speech, Citizens have the right to criticize the government...even in Italy.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Congress, Money & the Constitution | WBUR and NPR - On Point with Tom Ashbrook

Recently, NPR’s On Point dedicated a segment on the issue of influence of influence of the private sector on policy—which happens to be one of my research interests. Building upon the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the radio program featured Larry Lessig, who recently published a thoughtful piece in The Nation in which the Harvard professor argues that Congress is a ‘politically bankrupt’ institution that needs to be reformed. ‘The US Congress has become the Fundraising Congress. And it answers … not to the People, and not even to the president, but increasingly to the relatively small mix of interests that fund the key races that determine which party will be in power,’ Lessig writes. It answers to (and keeps getting blocked by) ‘the defenders of the status quo,’ as President Obama referred to as a candidate during the presidential campaign.

On the radio program, when asked what is the root of our problem (whether the parties or the money that parties receive), Lessig answered that ‘we supposedly have two parties right now but that the money turns them into a single party.’ ‘Both parties begin to sing the same tune to the powerful interests that are going to give them the money to get back into office and until we change that structure, so that they don’t have to sing those tunes that Wall Street or the auto industry or the big banks or pharma or the insurance companies, we will not have real change’ Lessig added.

I find the image of ‘the defenders of the status quo’ and the notion that ‘money turns [the two parties] into a single party’ very helpful in thinking about these issues.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Eternit Trial: Pretrial motions

A judge in Torino is hearing an asbestos criminal case against two major shareholder of Eternit SA. After a few hearings, the trial is not open. Pretrial motion are in fact still pending.

6392 victims filed motions to intervene as civil claimants in the trial. Under Italian law (as well as under the law of several European jurisdictions), a person entitled to recover (under tort law or criminal law) damages caused by conduct that is also relevant from a criminal standpoint, can intervene in a criminal trial and have their claim adjudicated along with issues of criminal liability of the defendant. Ordinarily, the judge presiding the criminal trial limits her judgment to issues of civil liability remanding question of damages to a different judge.

Defendants have raised two defenses. First, they requested the court to deny some of the motions because they were filed by victims who had been exposed to asbestos in the course of employment at a plant that was not formally included in criminal charges. Second, defendants filed liability releases forms signed by some of the victims in 1993, in connection to an earlier settlement. Based on my experience, these releases are not likely to be sufficient to deny the motions to intervene as they pertained to a different crime. Similar documents were part of the trial record in the Petrolchimico trial back in the 1990s. However, the trial judges did not consider them.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

New paper on assisted reproduction in Italy

For the Italian readers: I just published the paper La procreazione medicalmente assistita tra diritto e clinica: il ruolo del medico (Medically assisted reproduction between legal and clinical practice: the role of the physician) in 'Pratica Medica e Aspetti Legali', an Italian medical journal published by SEEd edizioni, in which I discuss the professional, legal and ethical responsibility of physicians that arises under Italian law whenever a couple seeks treatment for infertility or sterility. Here is the abstract:

In Italy, assisted reproduction is regulated by a variety of sources, the most important being Law 40/2004. The paper discusses how the tight legal framework allocates ample discretion to physicians who play a major role in various aspects of assisted reproduction – namely in implementing a gatekeeping role whenever a couple applies for access to assisted reproduction, in choosing the techniques that better suits the couple, and in performing preimplantation embryo testing aiming to select which embryo (or embryos) is suitable for implantation. The paper also highlights the professional, legal and ethical responsibility of physicians that arises whenever a couple seeks treatment for infertility or sterility.
Recent developments of ART in Italy: Upon acceptance of the paper, on January 14, 2010, a judge in Salerno ruled that a couple has a right to request that preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) is performed on embryos even is such couple is not infertile or sterile in the sense that the couple cannot have children naturally. Carrying the genes responsible for spinal muscular atrophy type 1 (SMA1), the couple applied to the court for recognition of the right to take advantage of PGD arguing that, although technically fertile and not sterile, they could not have babies because they were not willing to procreate a baby with the risk of the baby carrying the SMA1 gene. The court agreed with the plaintiffs and ordered that PGD is performed on the embryos to be transferred.