The Malta Independent 4 October 2022, Tuesday
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Helping childless couples

Tonio Fenech Monday, 21 May 2018, 09:02 Last update: about 5 years ago

In the debate for or against the government’s decision to change the Embryo Protection Act, the people terribly caught in the crossfire are the “so described” infertile couples.  These persons have been used and abused by government as the justification to open the floodgates of change to the Embryo Protection Act, despite the wide and serious underlying consequences, on the same families, their children, the respect and dignity of very human life and the opposition of professional, academics and the public at large.

Why “so described” rather than simply infertile couples?  I think describing a couple infertile is demeaning, presented as inferior simply because they are childless.   We make them feel inferior, every time we meet them and pass an insensitive comment like “ghadkom bla tfal?” 

I come from parents that, not by design, spent their first 10 married years childless.  They loved children, wanting their own, but it seemed we were not intending to come.   Why after 10 years the floodgates opened and they had first my sister, then my brother and then me is anyone’s guess.

Were they too stressed, wanting children too much, was is it physical? Frankly I don’t know.   What I do know is that the period of so called infertility made my parents no less human beings that any other human beings who had children.  Who we are has nothing to do with whether we are parents or not.

There are many couples out there who are without children, who have accepted lovingly their state of being, and found a different purpose to their life and marriage.  All of a sudden, they are being told that they have something missing, they need these amendments to solve it, the miracle of embryo freezing.

Many of these people have already solved it- they live happy lives in full acceptance of their reality.  They found meaning in what they do, the value of their love for each other and others outside their family, many times in voluntary service, with people in need, acts of charity and other meaningful interests.  Why are we telling these people they are inferior?   We are so lost in presenting children as the be all and end all of one’s existence that we are insulting the same people we say we want to help.

We forget that there are men and women who actually choose not to marry and have children to give themselves in service to others.  Who can say that Mother Teresa or Dun Gorg Preca were childless?  We all can have a good purpose in life, find fulfilment in what we do.  It is also wrong to present children as the guarantee of happiness.  Unfortunately, the world is filled with stories of rejection, stories of parents who share their sadness at having been abandoned by their children, parents who lost their children through severe sicknesses or saw them fail and fall into addictions, crime, suicide despite the love they gave them and which make these realities all the more painful. 

Childless couples have suffering and parents have suffering.  Pope Francis says that “Jesus teaches us to live the pain by accepting the reality of life with trust and hope, bringing the love of God and neighbour, even in suffering: and love transforms everything.”

I am not arguing that a couple that have fertility challenges should not seek help, even medical help in an attempt to have their own child.  However, in doing so they need to take care of each other as a couple, their health and all the children they will create with the IVF technology, even the frozen ones.   The present Act finds this right balance, unfortunately the new amendments compromise on life of the children that will be created and frozen, and in the case of gamete donation, introduce a third person in the relationship which can cause severe stress and consequences on the marriage itself.  Studies have shown that many husbands fail to bond with a child that their wife has had through another man and their marriages tend to break up.  Knowing that his wife bore a child with the sperm of another can be a very humiliating experience.  In a heated moment, not rare in a relationship, unloving words are said like “because I’m his mother” as though “you’re not his father” or “what do you know of my child” as though not yours too.  These sentiments are many times hidden in the subconscious just waiting for a trigger to surface and manifest themselves in a painful way.

If government really wants to help childless couples, there are other more effective, less risky and morally correct ways.  Government knows that the proposed changes to the IVF bill will only marginally improve the chances of success.  Minister Fearne stated that from the last cycle of 26 couples only six managed to become pregnant, making the point that with freezing two other couples may become pregnant.   In simple terms the minister is saying that embryo freezing increases the chance of the 20 couples by 10%. Undeniably despite our success rates compare well with many countries, we all would like to see more couples succeed.  However, improving rates cannot be at the cost of lives, ignoring the moral and ethical concerns, surrounding embryo freezing, gamete donation and surrogacy, at the cost of asking couples to put their children (embryos) in a freezer, very likely to be forgotten. People are not statistics; Government should stop over-selling these amendments as the magic wand that will make infertile couples fertile as improvements will be very marginal.

If government is serious about helping the 20 couples, and others in similar situations, it should help them with providing safe, secure and affordable adoption opportunities.  Many couples have found their parental fulfilment in adoption and fostering.   Adoption is costly, in a very “jungle” -like situation. Adopting a child from outside Malta (as not much opportunities from Malta) costs around 40,000.  There are no regulated agencies, you don’t know for what you are paying, and no guarantees.   For a start government should set up an agency that opens new opportunities from where children can be adopted making it more certain, cheaper for prospective parents, and ensuring that no shady activity is involved.  The government should also address the legal difficulties surrounding unwanted Maltese children trapped in institutional or fostering homes when adoption is in their best interest.  Encourage fostering not just financially but also providing the child and the fostering family with more stability.

If we are serious about helping these couples, let’s use our brains and efforts, time in Parliament and money to effectively help them and not sell them false hope.   Let’s call a spade a spade it is becoming more apparent that the government’s real motive is in not infertile couples, whose chances will not increase much more with freezing embryos, but same sex-couples.  Same-sex couples are not infertile couples, while they have every right to their choices, society cannot be blamed for what nature has dictated. 

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