Embryos should be shown the same respect as children

By Suzanne Vella and members of Save The Embryo Protection Act

The Commitee Opinion of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists on oocyte vitrification in 2014 was that “studies provide good evidence that fertilisation and pregnancy rates using vitrified oocytes (frozen female eggs) are similar to fresh IVF cyles”.

Of the same opinion is Dr Elena Porcu, director of the Centre of Infertility and Assisted Reproductive Technologies, University of Bologna, who is specialised in oocyte vitrification which she studied since 1996. In Malta in 2012 she said that the level of pregnancies obtained with oocyte vitrification approaches that obtained with fresh egg transfers, and equals those obtained with frozen embryos.

In Malta, the Embryo Protection Act Authority’s annual report of 2014 reports a successful pregnancy rate of 28.82% from all cycles carried out, and 30.82% of the total of embryo transfers made. This report is available on Save The Embryo Protection Act Malta Facebook page and the Malta Parliament website. 

However, parliamentary secretary for health Chris Fearne quotes an 8% success rate of live births from IVF (MaltaToday 11th Oct 2015). From where does he get this statistic? Which ages is he talking about? 

As science is clearly showing that freezing eggs or freezing embryos the same success rate is obtained, we can’t see how Mr Fearne’s ‘solution’ of freezing embryos instead of eggs can increase live births and solve the issue. The question which needs to be asked is why are these pregnancies not being maintained?

If the government offers choice to prospective couples or singles, to freeze embryos, it will be imposing itself on the unborn child. It will be deciding the fate of a voiceless third party. It will be paving the way to embryo selection – selection by strength, sex, abilities and more. Embryos should be treated as persons because every human life, whatever its appearance or size, is worthy of care and protection. All embryos, male or female, strong or weak are equal and precious. 

Perhaps, we dare to speak of embryos in a cold and distant manner because they are invisible and we forget that they are ‘minors’ just as children are.

So should not the same respect shown to children be shown to embryos? The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states that the best interests of children must be the primary concern in making decisions that may affect them. Decisions taken by adults should always be based on how they affect children. Governments should respect children’s right to an identity, to a name, a nationality and family ties (Article 8). Children whose parents do not live together have the right to stay in contact with both parents, unless this might hurt the child (Article 9).

•    Article 8 (Preservation of identity): Children have the right to an identity – an official record of who they are. Governments should respect children’s right to a name, a nationality and family ties.

•    Article 9 (Separation from parents): Children have the right to live with their parent(s), unless it is bad for them. Children whose parents do not live together have the right to stay in contact with both parents, unless this might hurt the child budget, policy and law makers.

The present scenario about this issue raises a lot of questions – why change the present law when there was no public demand for change? Why is Mr Fearne proposing increasing birth rate only in this way and not supporting less invasive options on the woman, such as naprotechnology and other family-friendly measures? Will the Nationalist Party with their call of “justice with citizens” and “dignity to all” give a voice to children and embryos? What does the President and the Foundation of Well-Being of Society propose in this debate? Are we idealising IVF and raising the hopes of infertile couples without being true about its risks and failures? Where do the boundaries of discrimination start and end?

Having the well-being of children at heart, we are in favour of keeping The Embryo Protection Act 2012 (the IVF law) unchanged. The current legislation ensures a balance between the needs of infertile couples and the needs and rights of children and embryos. Let’s keep this balance!

Christine Rossi, Suzanne Vella, Mariella Catania, Martha Fitz, and Marisa Gatt are part of the Save The Embryo Protection
Act Malta

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