MPs reject Gozo Bishop IVF appeal
Couples to be counselled on IVF
Politicians from both sides of the House have rejected the Gozo Bishop’s appeal against artificial fertilisation, which he controversially labelled “highly abortive”.
But the Health Ministry was non-committal, saying only that “the Artificial Reproductive Technology legislation will be based on full respect towards human life, from the moment of conception”.
In a homily last Friday, Bishop Mario Grech urged Catholic politicians not to encourage the culture of death when IVF legislation comes before them in Parliament.
Yesterday, Nationalist MP Jean Pierre Farrugia, who headed a parliamentary committee on IVF, said the Church had a right to pronounce itself against the procedure and Catholics could opt to follow these teachings. However, Malta, which suffers from a very low birth rate, needed a law to regulate IVF and give an option for infertile couples who today could not afford the process privately.
“The Church is against the whole process, even the very beginning of separating the sexual act from procreation,” he added.
Dr Farrugia said some wealthy couples were opting for IVF abroad to ensure a safer process in which fewer embryos were implanted, diminishing the chances of the more dangerous multiple pregnancies.
The Vatican’s Dignitas Personae document only referred to one aspect of IVF as abortive.
It said it was abortive to screen embryos for genetic and sexually-transmitted diseases to exclude the defective ones before being implanted.
But this procedure has already been rejected by the parliamentary committee chaired by Dr Farrugia.
However, the document did not evenuse the “abortive” term to refer to embryo freezing, which Dr Farrugia’s committee had favoured.
Meanwhile, the Labour Party said rejecting the IVF law, which has been “gathering dust” for more than a year, “is not an option”.
“Labour has consistently been in favour of the introduction of IVF legislation, regulating a procedure that already takes place in this country and which is to date unregulated,” Labour’s spokesman told The Times yesterday.
“A cross-party committee has agreed on a draft law, which has been gathering dust for more than a year. We remain open for the most ethical IVF techniques. But rejecting a law which gives new hopes to infertile couples is not an option.”
IVF practitioner Mark Brincat denied the Gozo Bishop’s claim that IVF is in any way abortive. “As a practising scientist I totally deny that IVF is abortive. The world consensus is that it is unacceptable to call this abortive.
“IVF practitioners go out of their way to help women become pregnant, they do not go out of their way to stop a pregnancy. This is the big difference,” he said, audibly dumbfounded by the Bishop’s statements.
“The thrust is always life,” he added, quoting the book A Matter of Life by Robert Edwards and Patrick Steptoe, which outlines the story of the first test-tube baby.
Prof. Brincat, the director of the obstetrics and gynaecology department at Mater Dei Hospital, said Bishop Grech’s comments as quoted on The Sunday Times were “scientifically and factually incorrect” and he also disagreed with them from an ethical standpoint.
Scientifically, he explained, the concept of IVF was the “opposite” of abortion because it sought to enable a pregnancy, not stop one.
Factually, it was simply untrue that only 100,000 of three million IVF babies were normal. “The facts are otherwise,” he said.
Ethically, he added, doctors who performed IVF were following good medical practice because their aim was simply to help suffering couples have babies.
But theologian Fr Rene Camilleri supported Mgr Grech’s statement and called on the entire Church to be more vocal on such issues. “If the Church took more of a stand, the comments of Mgr Grech would not stand out so much,” he said, commending the Bishop for giving a relevant homily to mark Our Lady of Sorrows.
While science seemed to have provided a remedy for couples who could have children, Fr Camilleri said the process had become exploitative, with couples spending thousands of euros and being given high hopes early on in the process, only to have these hopes dashed later on.
“This is causing enormous pain,” he said, adding that politicians were “irresponsible” because they had spoken about IVF since 2005 without taking concrete steps to regulate the sector, which he likened to a jungle.
He cautioned against taking decisions based on emotions and added that IVF could lead to abortive practices due to the accumulation of unused embryos which might eventually be discarded.
“If I have no intention to kill you but I kill you anyway I have still killed you. Otherwise we will be saying the end justifies the means.”
However, Dr Farrugia said the law proposed to the government would ensure constant counselling for couples so that they would be told the true implications of the process and make sure they do not rush into it.