Embryo freezing will be linked to adoption

Embryo freezing and gamete donation are included in the changes being proposed by the government for the Embryo Protection Act • The first reading of the Bill will be held tonight

Government is proposing to allow the freezing of embryos as part of IVF treatment
Government is proposing to allow the freezing of embryos as part of IVF treatment

Changes to the law regulating in-vitro fertilisation will allow embryo freezing on condition that prospective parents agree to give up unclaimed embryos for adoption, MaltaToday has learnt.

Prospective parents will be issued with a ‘permit’ by the regulator to have their embryos frozen, which can then be extended every five years until the woman is 43.

Sources said this will give the couple ample time to use any frozen embryos but if they decide not to extend the permit, or the woman reaches 43, the Embryo Protection Authority will be able to give the embryos up for adoption.

The law is also expected to say that parents who, before the start of the treatment, decline to agree with the adoption clause will only be allowed to fertilise two eggs, with all resulting embryos being transferred to the womb – as happens today.

Sources said the move was intended to allay fears that frozen embryos will pile up at fertility clinics, leaving doctors with the ethical dilemma of what to do with them if they remain unclaimed.

Current legislation only allows embryo freezing in exceptional cases, such as when fertilised eggs cannot be transferred to the womb because the woman would have suffered an accident before the implantation process.

Sweeping changes

The changes will make embryo freezing an integral part of the IVF treatment, something that pro-life groups are opposed to. However, fertility experts argue that for IVF programmes to be successful they have to include the option to freeze embryos.

Existing legislation only allows for the freezing of unfertilised eggs, which is ethically non-controversial.

The Bill is also expected to make other sweeping changes to the restrictive Embryo Protection Act, including the introduction of sperm and egg donation, which are currently outlawed. This aspect will make it possible for lesbians and infertile couples to have children.

The age of women who would be able to benefit from IVF would increase to 48 in cases where eggs come from a young donor. It will remain 43, in other cases.

The first reading of the Bill reforming the Embryo Protection Act will take place this evening in Parliament.

Piloted by Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne, the changes have received unanimous backing within the Labour parliamentary group.

An attempt to reform the Embryo Protection Act in the last legislature had stalled after some MPs, including former foreign minister George Vella, had objected to embryo freezing.

Last week an online parliamentary petition against embryo freezing was initiated, calling on MPs not to change the existing IVF law. By Tuesday evening it had gathered 1,016 signatures.

The Labour government has an electoral mandate to reform the IVF law.