[WATCH] Fearne on PGT: Opposition has history of agreeing with reforms years later

Health Minister Chris Fearne says PN will probably come around in a couple of years' time to the idea of embryo genetic testing when they see the birth of healthy babies

Health Minister Chris Fearne (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)
Health Minister Chris Fearne (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)

The Opposition has a history of agreeing with reforms after they happen, Health Minister Chris Fearne said on Friday when commenting on the Nationalist Party's stand against embryo genetic testing in IVF.

He was speaking at the launch of a screening programme for those aged 65 and over to detect Abdominal Aortic Aneurysms by ultrasound and enable doctors to offer life-saving treatment.

Asked by MaltaToday for his reaction to the fact that the Opposition will not support genetic testing of embryos, which is one of the reforms to IVF legislation put forward by the government, Fearne noted that back in 2018, PN MPs had also voted against the IVF changes proposed then.

“Today, the Opposition says it is in favour of the 2018 amendments. I’m not someone who likes to read the future, but if I did, I would say the Opposition today is against PGT-M, but I would say in a couple of years, once they see the benefits, they will say they are in favour,” he said.

The IVF reforms started being debated in parliament on Wednesday with Opposition health spokesperson Stephen Spiteri saying the PN parliamentary group could not give its green light to PGT-M because it goes against the embryo’s right to life.

READ ALSO: Embryo genetic testing to be allowed for nine conditions as MPs debate IVF changes

The protcol tabled in parliament by Fearne that will regulate PGT-M lists nine conditions that will be tested but allows the Embryo Protection Authority the leeway to add more in the future after discussions with patients and their clinical team. While Huntington's Disease, a degenerative condition of the brain, is listed, ALS is not.

Asked why ALS was not on the protocol list, Fearne said that it was because PGT-M was restricted to monogenic diseases. “Monogenic diseases are easily identifiable, and the tests are highly accurate. PGT-M is not for every condition and will be restricted to couples with a known history in the family,” Fearne said.

The UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority lists ALS as a monogenic disease that can be detected using PGT-M. ALS Malta, a charity group, describes the disease as "the most popular type of motor neuron disease" and the average life expectancy after diagnosis is between two and five years. The group's website says ALS is always fatal and the inheritable form of ALS usually only requires one parent to carry the disease-causing gene.

The protocol drawn up by the Embryo Protection Authority forms part of the amendments that will be discussed in parliament.