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IVF bill humiliating but can be salvaged - Muscat

The IVF bill is humiliating for parents, children and professionals, Labour leader Joseph Muscat said this evening.

Speaking in Parliament, during the debate on the bill for the protection of the embryo, Dr Muscat said the Opposition would be voting in favour of the second reading not because it agreed with the bill as presented but because it agreed on the need to regulate.

It also believed that the bill could be salvaged but it would be moving crucial amendments at committee stage, he said. He proposed the committee stage to be debated in plenary and it was willing to agree on a timetable that would wholly cover the debate by the end of next week.

The Opposition, Dr Muscat said, believed that it would be irresponsible if, after so many years of debate, the current vacuum was allowed to continue.

The law the House would enact would not be perfect and could present moral dilemmas for some.

Dr Muscat said he was willing to give the bill the benefit of the doubt because he believed it could be changed and improved.

Declaring himself as a liberal, he said this to him meant not to be afraid to be labelled.

“We have to show European courage in our country, live European values and ideas in Malta.”

He said that as someone who had served in the European Parliament, this was not the first time he had had to face dilemmas and questions.

To be in a group and in a part of Parliament where abortion was a right and stand up and say you did not agree was not easy but it showed that you were willing to work for what he believed in.

In the same way MPs had to have the courage to implement progressive ideas.

The law that would be enacted would be the result of a compromise. It would not be perfect and some would not like it. However, it was crucial so as not to continue to allow a vacuum.

Dr Muscat said that one of the concepts being introduced was that of embryo freezing and it was very important that the House was conscious of what it was trying to do.

For this fact destroyed the myth that IVF or embryo freezing was equivalent to abortion, about which there was consensus against in Parliament.

He promised that a new government would be committed to ensure that the public health service offered IVF free of charge to couples who needed it.

The Labour leader said the Opposition could not agree with the introduction of a planning authority for birth, as was being proposed.

For the bill was proposing, he said, that a couple had to apply for a permit to become parents. This was humiliating and intolerable, a vision of a big brother government the opposition could not agree with.

He said that while there could be abuse, parents opting for IVF were being seen as capricious, nearly criminal and having ulterior motives.

Those opting for IVF, he said, little thought about their baby would look and the kind of attitude presented by the bill was atrocious and similar to a theocracy edict. It was abominable.

The way the bill was written was putting those who wanted to use this technology under suspicion, labelling them guilty unless proven otherwise.

Dr Muscat said that the bill was restrictive and impractical and unless it was changed it would not change the current situation. It would also lead to more people being advised not to waste time in Malta but to go for the treatment abroad.

Certificates, he said, should not be issued by the proposed authority but by the professionals who would have consulted the couple.

This authority, he insisted, should be removed at committee stage because he did not have confidence in it and would end up being another unnecessary bureaucracy.

On the number of embryos to be implanted, he said that the fact that the number was increased from two to three within a week of the bill being launched, showed how half baked the bill was.

The bill, Dr Muscat said, was proposing a straight jacket and the opposition wanted to allow the professionals to treat case by case individually and decide accordingly.

The Labour leader noted that there could be a case where both parents died while the embryo was being fertilised. The bill should make clear what would be done in such instances and introduce concepts on the adoption of frozen embryos with the family court being the forum that would decide what should be done. There was agreement that the adoption procedure should not be against payment.

He said it was wrong that the bill threatened professionals with prison, the attitude, he said, should be different as there were other solutions which could be taken and medical professionals should not be treated as criminals.

The bill should also widen as much as possible the concept allowing professionals to decide not to take part in the process because of moral convictions without being penalised for their decision.

A grey area, he said, was on what would happen in the case of specialists referring couples abroad for an IVF process which could include concepts not included in local law.

It should be made clear that these professionals would not be criminally liable for giving such advice.

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