Simon Busuttil: ‘We stand by embryo protection law’

Shadow ministers have told MaltaToday that the parliamentary group has yet to discuss embryo freezing

Although the Nationalist Party is yet to take an official position on embryo freezing, leader Simon Busuttil told MaltaToday that the opposition stood by the Embryo Protection Act – the IVF legislation enacted in 2012.

“We stand by the embryo protection law which was passed by parliament unanimously. Statistics are showing that it is successful,” Busuttil said, referring to a report tabled by the Embryo Protection Authority last year. 

The report showed a 28.82% success rate from all cycles carried out in 2014.

Busuttil’s comment echoed an identical reply given by shadow health minister Claudette Buttigieg to this newspaper.

When contacted, the shadow cabinet members who serve in the Maltese parliament told MaltaToday that the parliamentary group had yet to discuss the matter.

“We presented a law that avoided moral and ethical issues and which enjoyed consensus,” PN deputy leader Beppe Fenech Adami said, referring to the 2012 law. 

“There are no scientific studies that show that changes are required. We will now wait for the government proposal and proceed from there. All the Prime Minister has done so far is kite-flying.”

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat had told MaltaToday that he was “resolute” in his aim of introducing embryo freezing. An inter-ministerial committee was subsequently set up to look into it.

Embryo freezing was banned in 2013 when the Embryo Protection Act was introduced with support from both sides of the House. The legislation, piloted by former justice minister Chris Said, allows for the freezing of eggs and bans any form of sperm or egg donation and surrogacy. 

The law provides exceptions under a blanket ‘force majeure’ proviso, to be decided by the new authority when embryo freezing can be allowed, and whether such embryos can be put for up for adoption – for example, in the case of the mother’s death.

“This is the best legislation that we have and it enjoys consensus and parliamentary unanimity, something which makes me proud,” Said said when contacted, adding that the parliamentary group would nonetheless discuss it.

Shadow social policy minister Paula Mifsud Bonnici, who has publicly spoken of “protecting the embryo”, insisted that the 2012 law was good enough. “At the same time, we don’t know what the government is proposing,” she added.

Shadow economy minister Claudio Grech argued that the current legislation was serving its purpose, although one had yet to see what was being proposed before ruling any changes out.

Jason Azzopardi and Marthese Portelli, shadow justice and transport ministers respectively, would not share their personal thoughts on embryo freezing, also reiterating that a discussion within the parliamentary group was first required.

“I have my own thoughts on the subject but I will first discuss them within the parliamentary group,” Portelli said.

Questions sent to PN deputy leader Mario de Marco remained unanswered at the time of going to print.

2014 fertility figures

The Embryo Protection Authority is the sole regulator of all assisted reproductive technology fertility treatments using oocytes and sperm, carried out in both public and private hospitals.

During 2014, the authority received 170 applications for IVF spread and performed in January, March, July and November. 142 cycles were self-funded by patients whilst 28 received government-funded cycles.

Mater Dei started offering free services every eight weeks in January last year.

Out of the 170 cycles, 66.47% were undergoing their first cycle. 159 cycles had viable embryo transfers. Out of the 170, only 49 resulted in pregnancies, meaning a 28.82% of successful pregnancies out of all the cycles. There was also a successful pregnancy rate of 30.82% of the total embryo transfers made.

Only six multiple pregnancies were reported, and all twin pregnancies.

Out of the 49 pregnancies, 36 were from 129 fresh IVF cycles. 12 pregnancies were reported from 39 thawed cycles and one pregnancy from the two combined cycles using fresh and thawed oocytes.

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