The Malta Independent 26 September 2018, Wednesday

Controversial IVF amendments to face final vote today

Tuesday, 19 June 2018, 08:17 Last update: about 4 months ago

After months of fiery debate, the controversial Embryo Protection Act will face its final vote in Parliament today.

It is expected that all PL MPs will vote in favour, while PN MPs will vote against.

The proposals, first announced earlier this year, will see the introduction of embryo freezing and adoption. The amendments had initially included altruistic surrogacy, however, Health Minister Chris Fearne recently announced that this will be presented at a later stage under a separate Bill.

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The anonymity previously proposed for gamete and ova donation will be partially lifted, meaning that children conceived as a result of medically assisted pregnancy will be allowed to find out who their biological parents are, once they reach 18.

The bill has been met with stringent opposition from pro-life groups, who have taken issue with the “objectification” of human life through embryo freezing and the ethical and moral implications tied to anonymous adoption of embryos. This sentiment manifested itself in a strongly attended protest in Castille Square.

 

We must modernise ‘antiquated and discriminatory’ law - Muscat

Muscat and his government have pushed forward with the agenda, reiterating several times his government’s commitment to enact the reforms needed to modernise the “antiquated and discriminatory” IVF law, when facing criticism.

He has consistently referred to the importance of empathy for the thousands of couples who suffer with infertility who have “pay thousands to travel abroad and get better treatment, which for many is simply not possible.”

While Muscat may insist that his party is unified on the issue (At the second reading, all government MPs voted in favour of the Bill, while all Opposition MPs voted against), comments from Former Minister and deputy leader George Vella, and Former Parliamentary Secretary Deborah Schembri may indicate the contrary.

After taking to Twitter to say that the law is “a complete travesty of ethics, morality and human dignity, allegedly to remove ‘discrimination’ imposed by nature itself,” Vella said he would have “definitely” voted against the bill had he still been an MP, when speaking to The Malta Independent on Sunday.

He explained that since the proposed law allows for embryo freezing and adoption, it “does away with all the legal and moral considerations” introduced in the initial legislation, believing that despite being called the Embryo Protection Act, the new amendments were definitely not in the best interests of the embryo.

Meanwhile, Schembri had said that she had always been against embryo freezing, embryo adoption and surrogacy and "Prime Minister Joseph Muscat knew (this) from day one."

“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.”

 

No constitutional issues with bill

President Marie Louise Coleiro Preca has also entered the fray, after expressing her concern that the polarised debates surround the legislation “do not constructively contribute to a holistic understanding of the human, social, ethical and medical implications at stake.”

Last Sunday, Coleiro Preca also said she would be proposed to Health Minister Chris Fearne to seek the advice of the Attorney General on the constitutionality of the IVF Bill, in a letter to pro-life groups, who had presented seven proposals the groups felt should be considered by MPs before the final vote.

Muscat later said that the government had the Attorney General’s advice from day one, and that there are no constitutional issues with the proposals. He said that the President did well to meet with citizens, adding that he respects her role as President. He also said there are EU Court of Human Rights judgements backing government’s position.

IVF first entered into Maltese legislation in 2012. The current law stipulates that IVF can only be provided to adult heterosexual couples who are either married or in a stable relationship. However, last year, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s government issued a legal notice that granted paid leave to prospective parents, which included lesbian couples, who pursued IVF treatment abroad.

The PN, as is the case with proposed bill, was against the notice, with Leader Adrian Delia presenting a parliamentary motion to defeat the legislation. Six PN MPs, Simon Busuttil, Chris Said, Karol Aquilina, Karl Gouder, Therese Commodini Cachia and Mario de Marco, abstained.

When asked why the MPs had shown tacit support of the government’s explained that their votes were based in the principle of equality

The current law also prohibits the fertilisation of more than two eggs but does allow the fertilisation of three in certain exceptions. Freezing can only be done in certain cases of force majeure.

 

 

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