Fearne: Government has mandate to update IVF law

The health minister made the case for a revision of the IVF law for the good of the mother, child and society at large

Health minister Chris Fearne has insisted that Malta’s In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) law need to be updated, insisting that the government has the mandate to do so.

Speaking during a parliamentary debate on the budgetary estimates for the Embryo Protection Authority, Fearne said the law that was introduced in 2012 was already very restrictive, and had ignored scientific tools and methods that were already available at the time.  

He said that the law had been controversial at the time, it was clear that IVF meant new life, adding that few doubted whether the procedure should have been introduced today.

Moreover, he said its introduction by the last Nationalist administration had resulted in a restrictive and conservative approach which had not intended by MP Jean Pierre Farrugia, who had proposed and envisaged a more progressive and open law.

Among the problems with the law, Fearne said, was the fact that while it was restrictive on the number of eggs that can be fertilised, in certain specific cases it allowed for three eggs to be fertilised. In cases where all three fertilised eggs were viable, he said the law included an obligation for all three to be implanted in the mother.

“This is increasing the risk on the mother as well as the child, and one must evaluate whether there is scope for improvement in the law for the benefit of both mother and child,” Fearne said.  

Another anomaly in the law, insisted the minister, was the fact that the law made it illegal for the procedure to be applied to same-sex couples, something he said was unconstitutional and was enough to merit amendments to the law.

“The law needs to be more inclusive and fair, and free from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation,” Fearne said.

Furthermore, he said at the way the law was written prevented certain couples for being able to conceive a child, even through the IVF procedure. He said there were scientific advancements that could permit these couples to have children but which could not be implemented under the current legal framework.

 “We need to use science and reason, and base our decisions on what is best for the child, the couple and Maltese society,” Fearne said.

The minister explained that Embryo Protection Authority had ended 2016 with a surplus but added that the government would nonetheless be doubling its funding for the authority.

He said that this had been done in order to give authority the resources and strength to inspect facilities used for IVF procedures.  

He said the authority would be recruiting a number of new inspectors, while pointing out that calls for application had been issued after the election.

The minister said a legal notice was published in May that will allow couples using the procedure to have access to an additional 100-days of leave.

Opposition health spokesman Stephen Spiteri said he agreed with the minister in that the law needed certain amendments, while noting that there were other suggestions that required more debate.

He said that while the authority needed to regulate the procedure it was also tasked with the collection of data, which allowed for the comparison of results obtained in Malta with those obtained in other countries.  

Describing IVF as a great advancement in medicine, Spiteri pointed out that while new procedures were constantly being developed, this did not mean that every new method was applicable to Maltese society and the factors specific to Malta.

A problem which leaves a great impact on couples needing IVF was a lack of support from a multidisciplinary team.

“We need to look beyond results in terms of number of pregnant women and babies born,” Spiteri said.

Speaking for the Opposition, Spiteri said that the it wanted to improve people’s lives within the parameters of safeguarding the mother and new life. He added that this was why the Embryo Protection Authority was necessary.  

While stressing on the importance to protect all life, he said the system Malta had adopted had protected both the mother and the embryo.

He said that while results had been achieved, more work needed to be done to improve results through investment in new technologies.

On embryo freezing, Spiteri said the subject was a sensitive issue that required calm debate in order to plot a way forward.

“I understand the government has good intentions to help those in need,” he said. “The opposition will be working hand in hand with some reservations.”

A crucial point, Spiteri said, was that man should assist the natural process and not take it over.

“We might see short-term results, but in the long term this will impact society and all those involved,” he said. 

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