ROME — Dr. Severino Antinori is no stranger to controversy. The maverick Italian fertility doctor made headlines and broke ground in 1994 when he helped a 63-year-old Italian woman give birth. It was the first time anyone that old had been able to conceive, and Antinori received mixed reviews as to whether he was furthering science or altering nature’s course in the extreme. He was also the doctor for Patricia Rashbrook, a 62-year-old Briton who in 2006 became the oldest mother in the U.K.
Since then, the 70-year-old has been one of the most sought after fertility doctors in Europe, dubbed “grandma’s gynecologist” for the miracle doctoring he is credited with carrying out.
But being a top fertility doctor, of course, comes at a price. Not only are most of the women he treats infertile due to their age or other issues, but few qualify for egg or sperm donation based on their age. Perhaps that’s why authorities have been watching and wondering just where Antinori is getting his human eggs for implantation.
Now they may have an answer. Antinori was arrested over the weekend at Rome’s Fiumicino Airport on charges that he stole the eggs from a 24-year-old Spanish woman he was treating for non-fertility-related gynecological problems.
The woman, a nurse who has not been named due to privacy issues, says Antinori had hired her as a temporary assistant after he met her at a social function in Milan. During the course of her brief employment, he diagnosed her with an ovarian cyst she says he cooked up as a ploy to steal her eggs. According to the court documents seen by The Daily Beast, she says that on April 5, Antinori took her cellphone and anesthetized her to harvest her eggs without her consent.
She called the emergency services after she came to, and went to a local hospital in Milan where she was examined, which, according to her attorney, proved that she had been anesthetized and that she had an invasive egg-extraction procedure. Police began an investigation into the circumstances around the alleged egg theft and arrested Antinori last weekend, placing him under house arrest in Rome.
The Spanish nurse had apparently agreed to treatment by injection to dissolve her ovarian cyst, but she says she did not consent to the removal of her eggs. The eggs, which were used to develop six embryos to be implanted into one of Antinori’s other patients, were also sequestered by police during the investigation. They will be tested for the Spanish nurse’s DNA and may be destroyed.
Antinori has not been formally charged with any crime, but he is accused of aggravated robbery and causing personal injury. He is also prohibited from practicing medicine for up to a year while the investigation is carried out. His clinic is under lock and key by local police and investigators as well, as are all of the eggs and embryos stored in his facilities, according to Milan police.
Antinori is also being investigated for the potential theft of other young women’s eggs, which has prompted Italian politicians to call for tighter regulations with regard to fertility treatment. Donata Lenzi, from the center-left Democratic Party, told reporters that Antinori’s arrest confirms a sinister black market in human embryos she suggests could be used for same-sex couples and surrogacy, which is illegal in Italy. Previously Antinori was investigated for activities related to unauthorized cloning research.
“The arrest of Severino Antinori is extremely serious because it indicates the existence of a market in eggs that will stop at nothing,” Lenzi told reporters after Antinori’s arrest.
Antinori’s lawyer, Tommaso Pietrocarlo, told Italian news agency ANSA that his client is completely innocent, and that the nurse had actually signed an informed consent to donate her eggs “after a consultation with a psychologist who will state that she was conscious of the choice she was making and that it did not pose any problem.” He says that she must have changed her mind and trumped up the stolen egg charges. “According to the documents, the woman signed two detailed consent forms March 11 and 14 under the guidance of a counselor,” he says.
Antinori, who is under house arrest pending a preliminary hearing, was reached by the Italian news agency AGI and said he was being falsely accused with “unjust and foolish accusations.” He also said that he worried for the embryos that the police sequestered.
“I have chest pains, maybe even a heart attack,” he said. “They want my death? I’m an honest man. I did not steal anyone’s eggs, and in the meantime the embryos they sequestered are dying.”