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New IVF law to eliminate same-sex discrimination, Health Minister pledges

Chris Fearne says law will soon be tabled in parliament

Existing IVF laws were discriminatory, the minister told parliament. Photo: Shutterstock

Existing IVF laws were discriminatory, the minister told parliament. Photo: Shutterstock

Updated 5.34pm - Added Paul Vincenti comments

A new IVF law eliminating discrimination towards same-sex couples would soon be unveiled, Health Minister Chris Fearne told parliament today. 

The new legislation would be based on the latest scientific developments and the government's overwhelming electoral mandate justified the government's decision to introduce a more inclusive law, the minister said. 

Mr Fearne called for a reasoned and sensible discussion about the issue, saying that comparing IVF to the Holocaust, as Gift of Life chairman Paul Vincenti had done, was not the way how to treat the issue.

Asking parliament to approve the financial estimates of the Embryo Protection Authority, Mr Fearne said that few people still objected to IVF. He said 35 IVF babies were expected by the end of the year – including a set of triplets.

The minister pointed out that the ban on embryo freezing was not a blanket ban, as the law currently allowed for such freezing in cases where the mother became ill or passed away during the course of IVF treatment. In fact, there were currently two embryos frozen in Malta.

The law mandated that all successfully fertilised embryos were to be placed into the mother, even if the three ova which practitioners may attempt to fertilise at once each become embryos. It was impermissible to freeze embryos in such cases, even though triple pregnancies posed a larger risk to the mother and to the embryos themselves.

Furthermore, practitioners who helped a woman in a same-sex relationship conceive faced up to five years in prison under existing laws - a provision that runs counters to Constitutional amendments moved last year which protect individuals of all sexual orientations from discrimination. This was the case even if the women in question were suffering from the same conditions of infertility as their heterosexual counterparts.

Health Shadow Minister Stephen Spiteri insisted that new procedures should be introduced only if it did not have any negative ethical consequences. The law should always keep the mother and her embryo at heart.

For this reason, the Embryo Protection Authority should be given all that it needs to continue to protect the rights of all those involved in IVF procedures, the Nationalist MP said as he called for rigid and thorough regulation commensurate with the high bioethical standards demanded by IVF procedures.

Talk of 'pro-life parliamentary group'

Godfrey Farrugia (PD) asked the Speaker’s guidance as how he would go about to establish a pro-life parliamentary group that favoured  “human dignity, inclusion and equality from conception to death”. The group would allow its members to no longer be “afraid to show their face and express themselves”.

Dr Farrugia was contrary to embryo freezing but one could not call him conservative simply because one wanted to protect the fundamental right to life, he argued. 

He noted that the rate of success of IVF in Malta was 20.88 per cent, while that abroad, which used embryo freezing, was 30 per cent. He asked whether one was prepared to sacrifice human life for better indices.

He said it was not right that the women’s and youth sections of the Labour Party were used to encourage forward embryo freezing without the party having consulted its MPs. He called on Labour MPs to be “conscientious objectors”.

Dr Farrugia appealed to the government to reconsider embryo freezing, which he said were akin to introducing murder.

PN MP Claudette Buttigieg said she was shocked that no reference had been made by any of the previous speakers to a case dating back to January this year, when a power outage had resulted in the death of a number of embryos in the incubator.

Mr Fearne said the case was the subject of an inquiry conducted by Mr Justice Alberto Magri, who was at present indisposed in hospital.

'Check what I said' - Paul Vincenti

In a video posted to Facebook, Gift of Life's Paul Vincenti denied having likened IVF to the Holocaust. 

"I actually said embryo freezing...is exactly like that, because you imprison human embryos interminably in freezers with no certain outcome. Therefore yes, it is a form of imprisonment," he said, adding "truth shall see us through this."

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