Towards a holistic and mature law on IVF
Just before rising for the summer recess, Parliament approved the first reading of the Protection of Embryos Bill. The Bill, which has yet to be published, is meant to regulate in vitro fertilisation (IVF). The Social Policy Ministry is on record stating that the Bill will also safeguard the rights of parents, the embryos and children born as a result of IVF and will make provisions for the service to be offered at Mater Dei Hospital.
This step forward is most welcome, for various reasons. Firstly, because although the IVF process has been available for more than 20 years for those who could pay for it in private hospitals, the sector is still unregulated. Because of the legal vacuum, the service could not yet be offered to all those who need and ask for it at the state hospital, though facilities were available. Also, the longer the delay to tackle properly this sensitive and complex issue, the bigger the risk that it becomes an unnecessary political ball.
Although Malta is one of the few EU members where assisted procreation has yet to be regulated, infertility clinics offering the service of IVF to infertile couples have been around for more than two decades. In fact, Malta’s first so-called “test tube baby” was born at a private clinic on December 15, 1991. It happened 13 years after the birth of Louise Brown in the UK, whose mother died recently. It is now known that, since then, there were some 750 women in Malta who became mothers after having IVF treatment here.
The debate about reproductive technologies has been going on at different levels of expertise. The House Social Affairs Committee had also considered the manner of regulation of assisted procreation
Rev. Prof. Emmanuel Agius, a member of the National Bioethics Consultative Committee since its inception in the early 1990s, is on record stating that the issue of assisted procreation has featured many times on the committee’s agenda.
Writing in The Times earlier this year, Fr Agius noted that a number of reports, ethical guidelines and two draft legislations on reproductive technologies were submitted to the Ministry of Health. He added: “Finally, it seems that this long-awaited legislation to regulate assisted procreation will find its place on the parliamentary agenda”.
However, for reasons only known to government authorities, probably also influenced by the recent quite abnormal operational headaches the government and Parliament have had to deal with, the government took its time to announce when it was going to move ahead with the Bill.
The situation prompted Labour leader Joseph Muscat to accuse the government of procrastinating on the matter and promising immediate action if the Labour Party were elected to power at the next general election. In reaction to Dr Muscat’s stand, the government announced that a law to regulate IVF would be presented to Parliament, as in fact happened. Late, true, but better late than never.
The issue or reproductive technology is a very multifaceted one. It also involves delicate values such as the dignity and integrity of the human person, the meaning of the family, the meaning of complementarity in the responsibility and role of parents, the meaning of marriage and sexuality.
It is now essential that when the debate on the Bill starts in Parliament – hopefully as soon as the House meets again on October 1 – all the aspects at stake are handled wisely by one and all in the best interest of a holistic and mature law.