Parliament to discuss bill amending ‘outdated, restrictive’ Embryo Act after Easter

Government will ‘very soon continue to act’ to address infertility, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said

The government will 'very soon continue to act' to address infertility, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said
The government will 'very soon continue to act' to address infertility, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said

The government was “listening” to couples suffering from infertility, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has said, and it would “very soon continue to act” on the issue.

Muscat was addressing the first conference of the Malta Infertility Network, the focus of which was on how Maltese couples were dealing with the experience of infertility.

The government is backed up by a strong mandate to change the Embryo Protection Act, and will be doing so once parliament reconvenes after Easter, reforms parliamentary secretary Julia Farrugia, also addressing the conference, later announced.

Farrugia said that the new bill, amending the act, would eliminate discrimination, making IVF more accessible to help many people, will be intended to benefit both mother and child.

The government recognises the hardship and financial burden of infertility, the Prime Minister emphasised, and the government was helping through a number of means couples who wanted to adopt or who wanted to opt for medically assisted reproduction.

“The first step was to instil in the minds of people that resorting to medical assistance to start a family is a way of life,” he said, “We have since started helping financially and locally.”

But regulations had to be improved to ensure women, whatever their financial situation, had access to IVF.

Amendments will soon be made public which will take into consideration that although medicine has advanced, legislation still recognises the ethically responsible methods of procreation, he said.

Discussions on a bill amending the Embryo Protection Act will start when Parliament reconvenes after Easter, reforms parliamentary secretary Julia Farrugia said
Discussions on a bill amending the Embryo Protection Act will start when Parliament reconvenes after Easter, reforms parliamentary secretary Julia Farrugia said

“If there is a way to help and support those of us who have problems of infertility then we have a role to do so,” he emphasised, “[Infertile couples] are not alone – we are listening.”

Law will benefit parents and child

Farrugia asserted that the point of departure had to be seeing infertility as a health condition.

The embryo act is restrictive, discriminatory, and leads to couples resorting to private health care abroad, she said.

“The law is outdated and needs to be changed. It must do justice with infertility,” she emphasised, “It only restrict the number of eggs which can be fertilised to three, and these must be planted in the womb, increasing the risk for the mother and the child.”

“It only allows for embryo freezing only in specific circumstances. We believe experts should have more leeway on when to choose to opt for this”

“We are taking everything in consideration, but the law will be devised to benefit the parents and the child,” she stressed.

“Embryo freezing is not abortion – on the contrary, IVF patients are struggling to produce life.”

Current law leads to embryo destruction, not protection

Taking the floor, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist Mark Sant, said IVF is currently only for heterosexual couples and is not available for single women.

“Do we need a change? Yes we do,” he said.

“The law we currently have is called an “embryo protection” act, when in fact it does exactly the opposite. The conditions [allowed by the law] to transfer an embryo are not good – is that embryo protection? It is embryo destruction, but that’s what this law makes us do,” he said.

Explaining that the current law only allowed IVF for women aged up to 43, he said that, however, if donor gametes, which are currently not allowed by the law, are introduced in Malta, the age capping should go up to 50.

“We are at the forefront of Europe when it comes to gay rights,” Sant said, “We should also not compromise when it comes to our infertile patients – one in six couples – and we should be at the forefront also when it comes to infertility”.

Laws should not restrict fundamental right to a family

Speaking at the conference, lawyer and activist Lara Dimitrijevic said everybody had the fundamental right to private and family life, as entrenched in the Maltese Constitution and the European Convention on Fundamental Human Rights.

“The Embryo Protection Act is very restrictive and conservative in itself”, Dimitrijevic said, noting that while the Act only allow IVF for straight couples, the medically assisted procreation legal notice has expanded prospective parents to incude same sex couples.

Bearing in right the funadamental human right to family life, the law is insufficient, she said.

“The main act is very discriminatory – it does not permit IVF to single women or homosexual couples. This infringes on their rights, as does the ban on embryo freezing and the limitation on the age [of the woman],” she said, highlighting that couples had to suffer the financial burden of going abroad if they are to escape the limitations of Malta’s law.

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