The Malta Independent 26 September 2018, Wednesday

Only Health Minister will be able to decide how altruistic surrogacy will be applied – David Agius

Rebekah Cilia Sunday, 20 May 2018, 10:00 Last update: about 5 months ago

If the IVF bill is made law, the Health Minister will have exclusive rights to make the rules and regulations for altruistic surrogacy, says Nationalist Party Deputy Leader for Parliamentary Affairs David Agius in reference to Article 4 of the Embryo Protection Bill.

Agius quotes the Bill as saying: “The Minister shall by regulations prescribe the manner in which altruistic surrogacy shall be effected and for any matter incidental and ancillary thereto.”

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This comes about in the light of Wednesday’s vote for approval of the second reading of the draft Bill. Agius comments that whereas before there was no right to surrogacy, now – if the law is passed – it will be introduced without knowing how it will be managed or the conditions that will apply.

Agius explains that whilst giving absolute freedom to a Minister is not unprecedented, the situation here deals with human life. He says it is something against which several civil society groups and the Nationalist Party have spoken. He criticises the Government for leaving the surrogacy clause so vague and believes that the discussion on surrogacy should have been carried out prior to its introduction, not after the law has been passed, or after it has already been presented in the draft Bill in such an open manner. He also says that the Government should have had an internal discussion on the subject and stipulated the conditions before presenting it to Parliament.

Although the Health Minister has every right not to introduce surrogacy, Agius questions why it was included in the Bill in the first place if it will not be introduced. He believes that it was left deliberately vague due to a lack of agreement on the subject of surrogacy within the Labour Party and is of the opinion that there are a handful of Labour deputies and even Ministers who are against surrogacy and the Bill in general. He suspects that if the Government was given a free vote on the matter, the Bill would not achieve the majority of votes needed for it to become law.

These Labour politicians would commit political suicide and possibly end their careers should they speak out, says Agius.

He poses several questions as to how the Minister will go about regulating surrogacy. “How will he [the Minister] go about defining altruistic surrogacy? Will it only be available to family members?”

Agius goes on to say that if it is only made available to family members, would that not be discrimination against people who perhaps do not have relatives to carry the baby for them? He says that the introduction of surrogacy in the Bill has not been sufficiently considered and that is why no structure has been presented to Parliament, claiming “there is no idea how it will be done”.

From speeches made by PN and PD MPs, Agius seems convinced that there is unanimity against the Bill for those who believe in life from conception to death. The Bill has to be looked at in terms of respect for women and also for the respect to life, from conception to death.

Amendments considered necessary by the Opposition to ensure that the Bill adheres to these principles will be put forward in the coming days, Agius reveals. Agius also says that the Nationalist Party would be willing to provide the complete IVF process free of charge, including all the medication that currently has to be paid for by the patient. It would even be willing to purchase any equipment or technology necessary to help with the process of IVF he says. He insists that the Opposition is ready to help couples who need IVF in any way, even if they need treatment abroad, but with the caveat that all ethical and moral obligations are adhered to. This does not include embryo freezing which, as Agius affirms, is not ethical.

The difficulty the Opposition has with surrogacy is based on the principle that a woman’s womb is being ‘rented out’ Agius explains. There is also the fact of respect for women and the social problems related to surrogacy he says. “We are against a woman being used as an object for this case, even if she wants to” he insists. He observes that, even in the EU, surrogacy is a very sensitive issue that raises a number of ethical concerns and adds that UN experts have pointed out that children are at risk of becoming commodities as surrogacy spreads.

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