The Malta Independent 20 May 2024, Monday
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INDEPTH: Surrogacy can lead children into an identity crisis

INDEPTH online Thursday, 19 April 2018, 08:40 Last update: about 7 years ago

Dr MIRIAM SCIBERRAS, Chairperson Life Network Foundation Malta, speaks to Rachel Attard about the amendments to the much-disputed IVF law. While she says that regulating the law to help couples while also safeguarding the human embryo is a good thing, she argues that the amendments being proposed are introducing new concepts which are not in principle part of Maltese society

In principle, are you against IVF?

In 2012, I was part of a group named Professionals Against Embryo Freezing that was involved in the amendment of the law regulating IVF, in the belief that helping couples while also safeguarding the human embryo is a good thing.


Are we not in the same situation now with the government proposing further regulations?

The amendments proposed are introducing new concepts which are not in principle part of Maltese society. The law in essence makes the human embryo an object by using terms like adopting and freezing. Although embryo freezing is already part of the law, it states that the case needs to be an exceptional one. If a woman cannot attend the session of implantation due to, for example, illness or an accident, the embryo is frozen until the woman has recovered. Now it will become a choice to freeze them.



Embryo freezing will become an option not forced on the patients. So why is it a problem?

We are talking about human lives. This government boasts a lot about equality so if the embryo had a choice would it not prefer to be placed in the mother's womb rather than a freezer. There seems to be an understanding, even in the law, that the embryo is human. It is called Embryo Protection Act so it should regulate IVF, help couples but also protect the children born from this act. This Act gives a choice and the choice is not necessary.


Science shows that most of the time the two embryos implanted during the first cycle of IVF do not develop. The third embryo which would have been frozen can be used during the second cycle. So does that not mean no life is wasted?

With the current law, we can do away with embryo freezing. The ova can be cultivated and only the ones that will be implanted will be fertilised. The remaining ova can then be frozen. During subsequent cycles, the ova can be thawed and then fertilised to be implanted. The national health system only gives you three cycles. If we really want to help these women, we should not introduce embryo freezing but more IVF cycles.


Another amendment to the law is embryo adoption. You stated that most of the embryos produced will never see life. Why is this?

It appears that in other countries there is a surplus of embryos leading to them being thawed and being given for research or thrown away. Research shows that most parents who already have children find it difficult to give life to their embryos. Also, gay people, in the case of women, prefer to get a sperm donation and use their own ova. Only if both women are infertile would they consider adopting an embryo, which is a rarity.


Other countries freeze several embryos which is why they have a surplus. The government is not proposing the freezing of multiple embryos, so why do you think we will have the same problem?

Freezing one embryo is proposed for the first cycle but then it is three in the second cycle and so on. In the second cycle five will be fertilised, two will be implanted and three are frozen.


So what happens if the Act was amended to oblige the patient to take the third frozen embryo?

A patient cannot be obliged to make use of the embryo; in fact, it states that the patient may refuse, even after agreeing, to attend the implantation. The frozen embryo is now in a situation where it is not wanted. In the case of parents who have separated, the embryo could end up at the centre of a court case regarding its ownership.


But laws already exist in the case of children whose parents are separated. Is not the same for the embryo?

The difference is enormous. In this case, the children are already born so if they are not wanted, society will take care of them. The courts generally decide in favour of destroying the embryos.


What does family mean to you?

In the amendments of the new law, the definitions of mother and father were removed. Several types of families exist but in the best interest of the child, they should have a mother and a father. In the convention of the rights of the child, of which Malta is a signatory, the child has a right to know its parents and as far as possible be raised by its biological parents. In this amendment, we are promoting single parents by choice which is egotistical for the children.


There are other types of families like gay couples or single mothers who are capable of raising a family. Should we not give them the chance?

The problem is not that they are not capable of raising children but that they should not intentionally land children in these situations. While we agree and are sensitive to the suffering of infertile parents, we also need to be sensitive to the need of the child to know its parents.


Should others like your association stop single people not wishing to enter a relationship from having children?

Children are not there for the satisfaction of human beings. While it is noble to want children, they are not objects.


Surrogacy is also being proposed in this amendment. Why is it when a kidney is donated to a family member it is a noble act but when a family member wants to carry a child for another family member it is not right?

The law does not say this. It says that surrogacy, also known as altruistic surrogacy, between friends could be anyone. This law gives all the options of surrogacy even to two gay men. Both the donors of the sperm and ovum can be donated to be carried by someone else. This leads to an identity crisis for the child.


Should the law be amended to use surrogacy only in special cases? Would you agree?

No I would object but I would understand it. In principle, surrogacy is wrong and although there are exceptions which are real and altruistic, there is still a problem for the child. Bonding between the mother and child starts in the womb. This bonding affects the development of the child in later stages in life.


The government stated it is categorically against abortion but you do not seem to think so. Why?

While this law does not compare to abortion you have to be consistent. The laws need to ensure that no window of opportunity is available for abortion. The government refuses to use the term 'unborn child' in the gender based violence bill. It is concerning for us that the unborn child might not be protected.


Our society is becoming more secular and liberal. The government should give society want it wants and those who not agree can decide not to make use of whatever it introduces. Would you agree?

If everyone wants to kill, we do not remove the law against killing. In principle, it is still wrong. The government is responsible to see what society needs but at the same time educate it on the dignity of human beings. This education should not only be done through laws but even through campaigning. It will become a jungle if we give society what it wants if it is bad. 

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