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We have reached the finishing line

In athletics, an athlete seeks to reach the finishing line as fast as possible. Speed is the central onus of one’s mission to run a race. Speed is the aim of the mission.

A few weeks ago the proposed act for the protection of the embryo was discussed and agreed upon in Parliament. As with an athlete, after a run, the Government reached the finishing line with respect to the introduction of a regulatory legal framework for the practice of assisted reproduction in our country. The Government’s mission to reach the finishing line was however starkly different from that of an athlete committing himself to run a race. In contrast with an athlete, the Government’s central aim was not speed. It was to develop a legal framework that adequately addressed a triad of aims: 1) securing full respect and protection of a human life from the moment of conception; 2) addressing fully the need of couples to have their intent to become parents met in an optimal way and 3) acknowledging the rights and obligations of health care professionals and health care entities providing services in this field.

Against the backdrop of this trio of aims, speed was squeezed aside. Admittedly, this law took a very long time in the making. In an ideal world this would not have been the case. Our understanding and empathy stands with those prospective parents who have had to wait a long time for the initiation of assisted reproductive services within the public sector. The Ministry of Health has had to wait for the Government to reach the finishing line and secure a legal framework through an effective law, prior to being able to provide the service within the public sector. We are now in a position to offer this service, within the public health care system at MDH, as soon as possible.

The Embryo Protection Act, as it stands, should protect and secure the dignity and respect of every human life that will be conceived. Through this law, couples should be assured of safe and appropriate standards and quality of assisted reproduction services. In turn, health care professionals are provided with a comprehensive legal framework which should guide their practice if they opt to practise in this field, and also if they consciously refuse to contribute and participate in services and interventions geared at assisted procreation.

I steered the development of the Embryo Protection Act in collaboration with Justice Minister Chris Said. We welcomed the contribution of many NGOs, associations and committees. Their contribution was immensely significant. I take the opportunity to thank them publicly for their invaluable participation towards reaching the finishing line.

I trust that the assessment of the success of reaching the finishing line last Monday will not rest upon how long it took to reach that line.

I do hope the evaluation of the new law, and the measures of its outcomes, will instead rest upon how effectively the three aims it sought were achieved.

The athlete measures one’s speed with a timing clock. Unlike the athlete, we cannot easily measure the extent to which the aims that propelled the Government to the finishing line were reached. The outcomes and experiences of those offering, receiving and being conceived through assisted reproduction services, over time, will offer the Government a measure.

I am confident that the readings will be good.

Joe Cassar is Minister for Health, the Elderly and Community Care.

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