Giuseppe Conte, a University of Florence law professor and longtime 5 Star Movement supporter, has been nominated to be the next Italian prime minister. After one week of negotiations, the 5 Star Movement and Lega agreed to ask him to lead the coalition government.
But Conte’s support for a controversial and scientifically unsupported ‘treatment’ for neurodegenerative diseases is just one of a number of murky details about the attorney’s past. Known as stamina therapy or the stamina method, the treatment involves injecting patients with stem cells which are converted to neurons. Devoid of scientific validity, the treatment was used on children and aired in a television report, causing a public uproar and a government investigation.
“I met the 5 Star Movement four years ago when they asked me if I was willing to preside over the self-governing council of administrative justice,” Conte said. From imaginary minister of the public service to possible prime minister, Conte will be remembering that lucky meeting with the 5 Star. But what led the 5 Star to tap Professor Conte goes back to 2013, when he and the 5 Stars worked together on the campaign in favor of the stamina method.
Today, that treatment has been definitively rejected by the scientific community and prohibited by the Italian court. Its founder and guru Davide Vannoni has been sentenced to 22 months for conspiracy and is still under investigation and in house arrest. For these reasons it is hard to believe that in 2013 the government authorized with a special decree the scientific experimentation of the stamina method and the continuation of compassionate care.
That was the time when the 5 Star had only certainties: “We believe that the method is effective, we came to this conclusion after listening to the requests of the Higher Institute of Health, of the Stamina Foundation and above all of the citizens.”
Then the method was crushed by the national and international scientific community, judged “criminal” by the Nobel Prize-winner Randy Schekman and finally rejected by the special commission for experimentation established by Minister Balduzzi (Monti government).
Even the Italian TV show Le Lene, which initially broadcasted the stamina method, said it was sorry “if we convinced someone that the method was valid and working.”
At that time the name Conte was often present on the Italian TV show. For instance, he was a lawyer for a sick young child who obtained court approval to continue the stamina treatment, even though it was not scientifically validated. Moreover, before the experimentation in public hospitals was definitively blocked, Conte fought for the application of the stamina method, thanks to which, in his opinion, families of sick people could believe in the “hope of a better quality of life.”
And it was not only a professional commitment, so much so that Conte also figured, with the actress Gina Lollobrigida and her all-round manager Andrea Piazzolla among the promoters of a foundation that fights for “freedom of care.”
“In addition to being a high-profile figure,” 5 Star leader Luigi Di Maio said Monday, “Conte is a person who comes from the suburbs. He grew up in San Giovanni Rotondo [a small town in the south of Italy] and he gave himself. He fought not only for legal principles but also for moral ones. He is a strong man.”
Yet the naming of Conte is a defeat for the political leader of the 5 Star Movement. After repeating for two months that he would never accept an “unelected prime minister,” on Monday Di Maio argued that “Conte was in my team so he was elected by 11 million Italians.” Salvini said the professor “is an expert in simplification, reducing public expenses and streamlining the administrative machine, which is what many companies are asking us to do.” The first comments in the foreign press focused on his inexperience and the possibility that he lied about his time at New York University.
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