The Malta Independent 22 September 2018, Saturday

‘I had told Muscat I am against freezing, adoption of embryos, and surrogacy’ - Deborah Schembri

Friday, 20 April 2018, 10:46 Last update: about 6 months ago

Former Parliamentary Secretary Deborah Schembri said she has always been against embryo freezing, embryo adoption and surrogacy and "Prime Minister Joseph Muscat knew (this) from day one."

Last week Health Minister Chris Fearne presented in Parliament a number of amendments to the Embryo Protection Act.  Schembri said that she is in favour with some of them and against in others.

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“I am all in favour of helping the creation of families, including those of gay couples and single people through the use of IVF treatment, but I am against embryo freezing and embryo adoption when these are not done in the best interest of the embryo, and also against the legalisation of surrogacy.”

Asked if the prime minister knew that she was against a number of amendments in the IVF law, Schembri said that the party had known her position even before she had joined. “Before I contested my first general election with the Labour Party, I had told Joseph Muscat that I would not be able to contest if in the manifesto there was the contemplation of embryo freezing, abortion and/or surrogacy, since they are subjects I feel very strongly about. In the last election, before I threw in my name again, I had gone to the prime minister and repeated the same thing and he told me that the mandate would be to broaden IVF legislation. Since there are various ways in which this can be done that are perfectly acceptable, I was happy with that.

“I have to make it clear that I am in favour of this party being in government, I have no problems whatsoever with the prime minister and Minister Fearne, both of whom I sincerely believe have good intentions, but I simple do not agree with the majority of these amendments. I believe they are fraught with ethical issues that have not been adequately discussed and addressed.”

Schembri is not the only former Labour politician to express their concerns about this bill. Last week, former Foreign Affairs Minister George Vella harshly criticised the proposed IVF law which was announced. Taking to social media, the former Labour minister wrote: “New IVF Bill: Need we go this far down this slippery slope to deliver on the utopic promise of ‘equality’? “New IVF bill a complete travesty of ethics, morality, and human dignity, allegedly to remove “discrimination” imposed by nature herself.”

“I am against freezing human beings in general because suspending life through space and time is unethical unless necessary to preserve that very life in very special circumstances, mainly when not doing so would result in the immediate death or destruction of the said embryo. In fact, our present Embryo Protection Act clearly states that life needs to be protected and entirely reflects this position. I only agree with freezing when it is done specifically in the best interest of that embryo and, unfortunately, the amendments that have been presented to us allow embryo freezing by demand, not necessity, and in this regard do not give the embryo any protection. I can understand the pain of those parents that have infertility problems and I am all in favour of giving them the best treatment possible, including that of oocyte vitrification, which is the freezing of eggs which can be fertilised at a later date. My main concern is where there are ethical issues. One cannot make compromises with the right to life at any stage of human growth. We all started out as embryos. The fact that we were unseen and unheard did not make us any less human.

“I am not against the freezing of eggs and sperm which one can fertilise when one needs to and discard if need be, because it is with fertilisation that ethical issues abound. Before that, eggs and sperm are merely genetic material bereft of life. What I am not extremely happy about is when it comes to anonymous egg and sperm donation because anonymity creates a lot of problems for the child concerning its identity once he/she is born. People feel the need to belong and a child invariably would want to know who they are genetically linked to. Anonymity is an even bigger problem in Malta given that our gene pool is small, because we could have a situation where two people who do not know their familial history end up procreating, and this could lead to genetic problems."

Embryo adoption

“Embryo adoption, I’m afraid, is not a solution to the ethical qualms of embryo freezing by choice. It actually creates more problems than it actually solves. Besides being asked to enter into a contract to give up their children during a very vulnerable period in their lives, the prospective parents will also have to live with the qualms of having children in limbo. The children they give birth to will have their brothers and sisters in a frozen state or given away. How will they feel when they realise that it could have been them stuck in a laboratory for God knows how many years?

“My biggest fear is that we will end up having more embryos for adoptions than actual requests, which would undoubtedly be very few indeed. Another concern I have with embryo freezing vis-à-vis adoption is with the practice of choosing the embryos to be frozen. Normally, the ones with the best chances of survival are implanted and the rest frozen. Although this is not selection on the basis of race, or eye colour, it is equally unacceptable and discriminatory. This means that any embryos given up for adoption are the ones that have been considered by the embryologist to be least likely to make it to term. Are the adoptive parents going to be told that that’s what they will be given?”

Surrogacy

“I do not agree with surrogate motherhood in general, including altruistic surrogacy, which the government is proposing. By speaking of ‘altruism’ we are creating an illusion that the subject is being divested of its ethical issues. There are a set of problems that are specific to altruistic surrogacy but the main problem is that there is a symbiotic link between an unborn child and the mother carrying that child, which bond will not vanish by signing a contract or the moment that child is taken away from its mother. There have been a number of cases abroad where the mother, after giving birth, did not want to give that child away and when the prospective parent is a family member, which in a good number of altruistic surrogacy cases it is, the pain is greater. This will result in a number of family arguments and ruptures of family ties.

“After all, altruistic or commercial, children are not objects that should be given away for money or as gifts. They are not commodities to me made the subject of contracts. This will have an impact on a child once it is born and is old enough to try and figure out its identity. Also, the way the amendments are presented does not define what is meant by the term ‘altruistic surrogacy’. The legislator is not presenting us with a full picture of what this type of surrogacy entails and how to solve issues such as an unwanted child by both mothers on the basis of disability. These cases have been the cause of a great deal of debate abroad and are not unknown to the courts. I believe that the proposal that surrogacy is to be further amplified in a legal notice is not acceptable. We are talking about human beings as subjects of contract; matters regarding families deeply rooted in ethical problems. This certainly deserves to be discussed in Parliament and not left to a ministerial decision – the issue is too serious.”

Asked about the fact that the government does not have a mandate on surrogacy, Schembri said that the government could introduce things that were not in the electoral manifesto and there was nothing wrong in that. What she finds distressing in this case is that surrogacy was an illegal practice and these amendments are seeing to certain types of it becoming legal.

“That is a radical change in the law, not a broadening of the same and for that this government does not have a clear and unequivocal mandate.”


 

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