The Malta Independent 1 February 2023, Wednesday
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Opinion: Let’s talk, but respect our principles - Chris Fearne

Chris Fearne Monday, 21 May 2018, 09:05 Last update: about 6 years ago

The amendments we proposed to existing IVF legislation have generated quite a national discussion, animated by those who are in favour as much as by those who are not. Those who urgently require these changes to start a family spoke with a passion that we, who don’t require them, can never match. Others took a moderate and much less passionate route, on both sides of the fence. Some said we went too far, others insisted that we did not go far enough. Some sang from a religious hymn book, others stuck to the books of scientific discovery. 

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Through it all there is one thing that certainly cannot be pinned onto this government: that we somehow tried to limit or stifle discussion. Parliament reflected this open and transparent national dialogue. Indeed, no less than 42 members of parliament contributed to the debate.

As always, the democratic right to free expression carries consequences. It can be used to do good as well as harm to individuals and society as a whole. With deep regret I note that some of the words and depictions I heard in parliament were extremely painful to the thousands of Maltese men and women who are facing problems of infertility. 

When someone like Simon Busuttil breezily declares that since neither God nor nature have granted a right to have children then so be it, he seems to be perfectly oblivious to his flesh and blood compatriots who were not as lucky as he was. He is also manifesting a deep disregard of contemporary science. Most spectacularly, he is callously ignoring the fact that our amendments will be increasing the likelihood of embryos reaching maturity than is the case with the current system. 

Thankfully, the bitterness-ridden voice of the former PN leader was not the only one. We heard many speeches, include ones delivered by Opposition Members, which expressed the need to change the law to help people experience the unique joy of becoming a parent. It was rewarding to see that there are Opposition MPs who are European in more than name. After all, a facility like embryo freezing has been introduced in many European countries. Even a former intellectual guru of the Nationalist Party, Prof Fr Peter Serracino Inglott, had declared that he saw nothing ethically or morally wrong with this medical facility.

On another level, as was the case before the introduction of divorce, this issue has a strong social dimension. Before divorce became legal, those with adequate financial means could still obtain it abroad and subsequently have it recognized in Malta. For the well off, a cash rich credit card made divorce and a new family possible. Those without one remained in a state of illegality and were forced to carry all the attendant social, institutional and financial burdens.

Today the same flagrant inequality faces those with infertility problems. Those who can afford treatment abroad do so and come back to Malta as happy parents. But those who cannot are denied that same right. 

Surely, no one who has even the weakest social conscience can accept this state of affairs. What is the point of speaking of social solidarity when our response to such an unfair state of affairs is to insist on retaining it? This party and this government has the fight against discrimination etched in its soul. We are not about to erase it now.

Having said all this, we are open to any and all suggestions which will improve the reaching of the goal we are aiming at. We are consulting widely with all who have expressed themselves on the subject. But let me be clear. We are flexible on the ways and means to achieve the principles, not on the principles themselves. 

There will be no compromise on discrimination. There will be no compromise on giving the best medical care to those who need it and wish to have it, on giving the care that science has provided humanity with. Indeed we intend to give couples whose first three IVF attempts were met with failure a new opportunity to try again once the law is favourably amended. At the same time, on surrogacy, we are open to the widest discussion possible and we are committed to debate it in parliament clause by clause.

For me, as a politician and a medical consultant, for this government, this was never meant to be a political issue in the narrow sense. Having spent my entire professional life saving children’s lives in hospital theatres, I cannot fathom how some on the Opposition benches can look at the long, painful and nerve-wracking ordeal of a couple fighting infertility and spot an opportunity to score political points. 

This whole issue is about helping women and men create a family despite the cruel adversity that nature threw at them. In this fight, I have dealt with my conscience. Let those who are prepared to stand in their way deal with theirs.

 

 

Chris Fearne is Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Health

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