Amendments to IVF legislation yet to be drafted

Amendments to the IVF legislation have yet to be drafted by the Ministry for Health, after which they will be passed on to the Labour parliamentary group for discussion

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Miriam Dalli
4 July 2017, 8:00am
Amendments to the IVF legislation have yet to be drafted by the Ministry for Health, after which they will be passed on to the Labour parliamentary group for discussion, MaltaToday has learnt.

Speaking in parliament last week, Health Minister Chris Fearne confirmed that the Labour government would be updating the legislation, arguing that the Embryo Protection Act was very restrictive and had ignored scientific tools and methods that were already available at the time.

The Embryo Protection Act had introduced oocyte vitrification – the freezing of eggs – while banning any form of sperm or egg donation, and surrogacy.

In its most recent electoral manifesto, the Labour Party pledged to widen and extend the service, including through the strengthening of the law, to reflect advances in technology and to allow more couples to benefit from IVF.

“This is exactly what we will be doing,” a spokesperson for the Health Ministry told MaltaToday when contacted. 

“Over the coming weeks the Health Ministry will be preparing draft amendments to IVF legislation which will first be discussed in cabinet as well as in the Labour Party parliamentary group and structures.”

The ministry did not provide an answer when asked to state the government’s position on egg and sperm donation. 

In the months preceding the election, and during the electoral campaign, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat reiterated that specialists should be given greater leeway in deciding when and how to help a couple who apply for the treatment. Embryo freezing is already included in the law, but is only applied in extreme and exceptional cases.

In 2015, an intra-ministerial committee was set up to carry out a review of the Embryo Protection Act. In the months that followed, disagreements within the Labour parliamentary group exposed a split on the legislation to introduce embryo freezing. Among the most vociferous were former foreign affairs minister George Vella, former government whip – today opposition MP – Godfrey Farrugia and former junior minister Deborah Schembri. All three are no longer part of the parliamentary group following the June elections.

A fourth objector was Deo Debattista, today parliamentary secretary for consumer protection, who had described embryos as “small babies”.

Questioned by MaltaToday on Friday whether he would support proposals that allow embryo freezing, Debattista – a family doctor by profession – replied: “I am pro-life and thus pro-IVF”.

On their part, Minister Carmelo Abela and Justyne Caruana – both of whom in the past were said to be uncomfortable about embryo freezing – failed to reply to questions by MaltaToday by the time the article went to print.

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Miriam Dalli joined MaltaToday.com.mt in 2010 and was assistant editor fr...