Updated | Pro-life lawyer goes to court to try and stop IVF Bill

Pro-life lawyer Tonio Azzopardi said that embryo freezing violates the embryos' right to life, and that procreation should only take place between a man and a woman • The government described Azzopardi's comments discriminatory 

The final vote on the IVF Bill will take place in Parliament on Tuesday night
The final vote on the IVF Bill will take place in Parliament on Tuesday night

Updated with the government's reaction 

Pro-life lawyer Tonio Azzopardi has filed constitutional proceedings asking the court to declare that changes to the Embryo Protection Act that are to be approved by MPs this evening violate the embryo's right to life.

In a constitutional application against the Attorney General, Azzopardi argues that life is protected from conception in the Maltese legal system, punishing those who endanger life with prison.

Lawyer Tonio Azzopardi has previously taken action against NCPE for its position on the legalisation of the morning-after pill
Lawyer Tonio Azzopardi has previously taken action against NCPE for its position on the legalisation of the morning-after pill

“The freezing of embryos, as it exposes unborn human life to clear danger, constitutes an evident breach of Article 33 of the Constitution and Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights,” reads the application.

Parliament is tonight expected to vote on the Third and final Reading of the Bill that will usher in radical changes to the Embryo Protection Act.

If the courts uphold the request and declare the proposed law illegal, it could force Parliament to rethink the issue.

READ ALSO: Government in late night consultation with Attorney General over IVF Bill

The proposed law allows the freezing (cryo-preservation) of sperm and eggs, as well as the freezing of embryos, in authorised cell banks, a fact which Azzopardi says is a money-spinner for the fertility industry.

It also amounts to “a breach…of protection from inhuman and degrading treatment…in that there would be stockpiling in authorised banks of embryos with the loss of all dignity for the person”.

The fertilisation of five eggs, with three ending up frozen, left the frozen embryos denuded of their dignity, aside from placing them in danger, he said.

The defendant Attorney General, as representative of the State, “has a positive obligation to defend life,” Azzopardi added.

“Procreation should take place in the context of a relationship between a man and a woman only. The concept of single parents intentionally giving birth to children who are not going to have a father or a mother is not only not in the interests of the children but also constitutes inhuman and degrading treatment.”

The practise of freezing embryos could result in children being born as orphans, because their parents would have died while they were in suspended animation, remarked the lawyer, whose staunchly conservative views on embryo protection are well-known.

Two years ago this month, Azzopardi had publicly taken it upon himself to defend the interests and rights of unborn children against “every violation of their right to life", taking legal action against the National Commission for the Promotion of Equality for its position on the debate on whether to legalise the use of the morning-after pill.

In that case, Azzopardi had filed a judicial protest against the commission, calling on the entity to desist from giving support based on “scientifically and legally incorrect considerations”.

The application filed yesterday asks the First Hall of the Civil Court in its Constitutional jurisdiction to declare that articles proposed in the draft Bill violate the human embryo’s rights, if it is frozen or used in IVF, and to declare the relative articles in the Bill null and void.

The IVF Bill

The Bill is expected to receive the full backing of the government side, while all Opposition MPs are expected to confirm their vote against the changes, when the Third Reading vote tales place on Tuesday night.

The changes include legalising sperm and egg donation, which will give lesbians and single women access to IVF and provide new hope to sterile couples.

The new law will allow doctors to fertilise up to five eggs at every cycle, increasing the chances of success. It also makes provisions for embryo freezing to be an integral part of the process.

Adoption of unused frozen embryos will also be possible.

Pro-life groups have opposed the changes, describing embryo freezing as a discriminatory process that puts human life in suspension and at risk.

The Government reacts

The government has called Azzopardi's constitutional proceedings as discriminatory, saying that it could offend many and stop people from becoming parents.

In a statement from the Deputy Prime Minister’s office and the Health Ministry, the government said the lawyer had all right to file such proceedings as a citizen in a democratic country, however, called it discriminatory.

“Azzopardi’s case is looking to stop people from becoming parents through IVF processes which helps many couples who cannot have their own children.”

It said the amendments were only passing after several months of consultation and parliamentary stages.

The government also called Azzopardi’s comments about single parents discriminatory, disassociating itself from his comments suggesting that only a man and a woman should procreate.

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