The Malta Independent 26 June 2022, Sunday

PGT screening will give my future child a chance to be free of my condition – Gianluca Cutajar

Semira Abbas Shalan Sunday, 19 June 2022, 11:00 Last update: about 6 days ago

The PGT screening approved by Parliament in amendments to the IVF law will give my future child a chance to be free of my condition, Labour candidate Gianluca Cutajar said in an appeal in favour of embryo genetic testing.

Cutajar suffers from the rare condition known as Spinal Muscular Atrophy, which causes physical disability, and in some cases, only allows the person to live for five years. SMA is one of the conditions listed for the screening.

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The Malta Independent contacted Cutajar over the opposition to PGT screening expressed by NGOs such as Life Network Foundation. The amendments will allow for the genetic testing of an embryo pre-implantation which will distinguish certain conditions and disabilities. A person going through IVF treatments can freeze the embryo should a genetic condition be found.

The president of the Life Network Foundation, Miriam Sciberras, had told this newsroom that the IVF amendments are discriminatory against persons with disabilities, saying that “it implies that the lives of people presently living with such genetic conditions are valueless”.

Asked to react, Cutajar said that he does not agree with such an argument, as science has advanced over the years, allowing for such conditions to be detected and, in a way, prevented for future generations.

“Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, however, I do not agree that it is discriminatory.” Cutajar added that the struggles he faced while growing up with medication and treatments for his condition has led him to the conclusion that he does not want the same struggles for his children.

“The moral and ethical arguments may never stop, however, I do not believe that this argument should stop the legislation of PGT screening,” Cutajar said. He said that he was in fact happy to see SMA as part of government’s list of conditions for screening.

Sciberras, as well as Doctors for Life, has also recommended Polar Body Testing as an alternative to PGT screening. This is a method for the genetic analysis of oocytes before the end of fertilization, allowing for the screening of such conditions to be done before the embryo is created. Sciberras had said that this is a more moral and ethical choice which will lead to the freezing of less embryos.

Cutajar said that no screening is 100% accurate; in fact, despite multiple screenings, the embryo could still be lost given the unfortunate event of a miscarriage. He added that other conditions throughout pregnancy could also arise.

“While I have no issues against the government exploring Polar Body Testing as an option to the amendments, it cannot be 100% guaranteed that you will have a healthy baby,” Cutajar said.

On the issue of the stockpiling of frozen embryos, Cutajar said he had voiced out his agreement with what Fr Peter Serracino Inglott had said 17 years ago when addressing Parliament’s Social Affairs Committee that dealt with IVF, embryo freezing and research.

Fr Peter had told MPs that embryo freezing was not equivalent to killing and also advocated stem cell research on unwanted embryos for therapeutic reasons.

Cutajar said that embryo freezing does not mean that the embryo is discarded, as Sciberras had claimed.

Cutajar went on to say that he supports the government providing more services which cater to everyone. He encouraged the discussion over surrogacy, which has not been included in the government’s IVF amendments.

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