Why IVF matters... even to the ‘justice’ crusade

An Opposition party that threatens to repeal aspects of important, ground-breaking legislation introduced in the past five years... so that everything goes back to how it was before?

It’s not just IVF, naturally. There are other, equally pivotal societal issues that still lie simmering – all but forgotten – beneath layers upon layers of accumulated media pulp; and every so often, the pressure will force one or more of those issues to erupt like a festering boil.

Right now, it happens to take the form of a bill in Parliament to amend assisted fertility legislation. A short while ago, it was a bill to ratify the Istanbul Convention against Domestic Violence. Before that, it was legislation to allow same-sex couples to adopt children. Earlier, the civil unions act... and earlier still, divorce.

Weaving through those disparate issues are a number of common threads. They all involve minority rights; they are all underlined by an unspoken cognisance that Maltese society is changing.... and that therefore, the country’s legislation and institutions must be updated accordingly; and taken together, they all represent a common policy direction. For better or worse, Malta is on a clearly defined trajectory.

The word ‘progress’ may be problematic, because not everyone agrees with the chosen path. But even the fact that they disagree (and so vehemently, too) signifies that they at least understand that a significant seismic social transition is taking place. And as with all historical revolutions, there are forces embracing and/or directing the change... and forces trying to maintain the status quo.

There: I’ve already given you enough to work out that riddle in the headline. But seeing as how those ‘forces’ tend to be so slow in learning from their past mistakes... perhaps it needs to be spelt out more.

Those layers of media pulp I alluded to earlier? Take it as reference to everything that dominates the public domain right now: whether it comes from mainstream Maltese media... international media... social media... government or Opposition sources... NGOs... It doesn’t matter that much, because none of it is actually documenting the change. The public debate platform has been completely hijacked by one issue, and one issue alone – you don’t need me to specify further – and seems entirely unconcerned with any issue that cannot be made to fit into a pre-determined narrative structure.

As I said, IVF is a good example, so let’s stick with that. Without actually wading into the debate myself (done that often enough in the past) it is self-evident that ‘assisted fertility’ – in its immediacy – is of direct concern only to a very small minority: patients who need the treatment, and medical professionals who provide the service. Indirectly, however, the net widens significantly.

We had already seen this in the case of divorce. It would be absurd to argue that the majority which voted ‘Yes’ to divorce in 2011 did so because they all needed a divorce themselves. Clearly, huge numbers of happily-married (or single) voters must also have also swayed by a phenomenon which seems entirely alien to Malta’s political class: compassion... consideration for others.... an understanding that one’s own narrow perspective is simply not enough to base legislation upon.

To this, you have to add another concern: the overarching question of whether, and to what extent, the State should regulate private lives. Some people may not have had strong opinions about ‘divorce’, as an issue, at all... but very strong opinions about whether governments should be allowed to straitjacket the entire country into one particular set of ‘values’. (This is, in fact, why divorce is considered a ‘civil rights’ issue: but let’s not start all that again).

Now: do you remember the widespread sense of shock and disbelief that greeted the referendum result? Did you ever try to rationalise it, and understand the forces that were at work behind the scenes back then?

I did, and I reached the exact same conclusion as I do today with regard to IVF (and yes, even with regard to embryo freezing). Political parties, the media, the Church, and civil society in general – wait, did I leave anyone out? Ah yes, social media users – are all so utterly absorbed by the hype-bubbles they keep creating for themselves, that they simply fail to ever realise that the rest of the country has since moved on. The arguments of yesteryear no longer work today. And it isn’t even necessarily the case because ‘the people’ have substantially changed their own individual outlook on things, either.

One side-effect of the social media revolution (coupled with the sheer frequency of political scandals) is that people are simply no longer as receptive to propaganda as they used to be. There is a degree of media-literacy that never existed before. People can now recognise an attempt to control their own thought processes when they see one: and many resent the idea of being told what to think and how to act... whoever it comes from, and even if they privately agree with what they’re being told.

Part of this can be attributed to a wholesale loss of trust in the institutions themselves. But again, let’s not get lost in details. The truly important thing is not that ‘the people have changed’. It is that those institutions I mentioned earlier – well, most of them anyway – have very emphatically NOT changed in step with the times. This is why they keep getting ‘surprised’ by developments that should really be completely predictable.... this is why they keep ending up on ‘the wrong side of history’.

And this, too, is why the media hype of the moment is simply failing in its primary objective. Last weekend, almost all Sunday papers carried an analysis of why the latest ‘Daphne Project’ revelations – not to mention all the ongoing allegations and counter-allegations being volleyed from side to side – do not seem to be seriously denting Joseph Muscat’s stranglehold on political power in this country. Predictably, they all made the same mistake: they assumed that the primary factors must be economic in nature. Malta is doing well (or seems to be, at any rate); therefore people see no reason to complain.

That is not so much inaccurate, as woefully simplistic. Certainly, Muscat would not have survived so long had the economy being doing badly. But the ‘economic prosperity’ argument fails to take into account the policy vision in the background. It overlooks the fact that, for everyone else out there, life goes on: infertile couples still can’t have children; minorities still want equal rights; and above all, people in general still want to live in a country that is politically stable, and which has a clear idea of where it wants to go. It isn’t all about the economy, you know. (Unless, of course, you argue that none of those aspirations would be worth having in the first place, if we were all dying of hunger. But you know what I mean...).

Forget this, and quite frankly you may as well bow out of politics altogether. And civil society, too. Campaigning on one issue, and one issue alone – however important you think it is, and however right you may be on that score – makes you a single-issue lobby-group, not a civil society platform. In the meantime, the country has passed legislation affecting people’s personal lives in a very direct way... and we didn’t hear a squeak about it from (almost) any of the long-standing ‘civil rights’ NGOs that would normally be the first to speak out. Perhaps they were too busy calling for resignations outside Castille; and perhaps they had good reason to be doing that, too.

Even so, however: forcing a high-level political resignation is not going to solve the personal problems of the people who rely on governments for legislation. On the contrary: in the present political climate, it simply means weakening the driving force behind progressive change, and strengthening...

... what, exactly? An Opposition party that threatens to repeal aspects of important, ground-breaking legislation introduced in the past five years... so that everything goes back to how it was before? Whose members vote against a Domestic Violence Convention on the most bizarre pretexts imaginable? And don’t even get me started on the most astounding paradox of them all... i.e., that the Opposition, under its current leadership, is actually proposing itself as an antidote to corruption, and expecting us all to keep a straight face.

I may be off the mark here, but my gut feeling tells me a majority in this country reasons roughly as follows: with Labour we got societal changes and a tonne of corruption; under the Nationalists, we’d only get the corruption part, without anything – anything at all – to actually compensate for it.

Is it a healthy way to look at things? No, of course it isn’t. But I can’t realistically blame anyone for thinking that way, either. When others finally start addressing some of the issues that have been ignored for so long... then, perhaps, we might start talking about ‘denting’ the present government. But not before.

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