Updated | President’s Birmingham visit paves way for PGT law to be signed by stand-in

Constitutional impasse over George Vella’s reluctance to give assent to genetic testing for embryos, resolved by his visit to cancer patients in Birmingham

President George Vella
President George Vella

A constitutional impasse in Malta over the President’s reluctance to give his assent to a law regulating preimplantation genetic testing on embryos, has been resolved while George Vella is away from the island.

Acting president Frank Bezzina gave his assent to the Bill this morning, just as Vella left Malta to travel to Birmingham on Wednesday, paving the way for his stand-in, Acting President Frank Bezzina, to finally sign a bill reforming IVF treatment into law.

Bezzina gave his assent to the law approved by Malta’s MPs as his first order of business, days before Vella flies back from London on Sunday. The president will be visiting cancer patients in the UK.

The Maltese Parliament approved the legislation of preimplantation genetic testing on embryos for inheritable diseases on 6 July. But Vella, a former Labour minister and medical practitioner who is opposed to IVF, has so far not yet assented to the Bill.

Green Party chairman Carmel Cacopardo had called President George Vella’s continued delay in assenting to amendments to Malta’s IVF rules, a breach of his constitutional responsibilities.

“In statements made to the press over the past days it has been made amply clear that Dr George Vella is reluctant to assent to the approved IVF Bill,” Cacopardo said. “This is clearly unacceptable and runs counter to his Constitutional responsibilities as President of the Republic.

“A Green MP would by now have presented a motion for the impeachment of Dr George Vella and his removal from the office of President of the Republic for failing to shoulder his Constitutional responsibilities ‘without delay’.”

After stepping down as an MP, in 2018, Vella, a former foreign minister, dubbed Labour’s regularisation of embryo freezing “a complete travesty of morality”.

He had recently told the press “the law will be signed” but refused to be drawn into any comment as to whether he will personally assent to the law.

Before his appointment as head of state, Vella had expressed serious reservations on the IVF law changes pushed by government in 2018. He had branded the IVF bill “a complete travesty of ethics, morality, and human dignity, allegedly to remove ‘discrimination’ imposed by nature herself”.

The bill made embryo freezing legal after it was outlawed back in 2012, and allowed egg and sperm donation, making treatment also accessible to single women and lesbians. Vella had then questioned why government was going down a “slippery slope” to deliver “the utopic promise of equality”.

Vella, a medical doctor, disagrees with embryo freezing, and has said that were he to advise an infertile couple he would make them “understand that these are not capricious decisions, that they are decisions that need to be taken with a formed conscience with ethical and moral standards.”

Vella has also said allowing same-sex couples to adopt children via surrogacy was “not nature”, despite having as MP voted in favour of civil unions and gay adoption.