PN split down the middle on IVF, Delia will give free vote

A fiery and often caustic executive committee meeting on the party’s reaction to proposed amendments to the Embryo Protection Act has left the party split down the middle, with progressive members turning on conservative and self-proclaimed Christian MPs

The proposed amendments to the Embryo Protection Act have left the Nationalist Party divided once again, as conservatives clash with more liberal party officials as to what stand the party should adopt on the contentious issue.

MaltaToday is informed that a meeting of the party’s executive committee on Friday turned into a circus, with impassioned arguing and name-calling, as members were about evenly split as to whether to back the government’s proposals or to come out against them, clinching religious and conservative support – and votes.

Sources said that the more vocal conservative members argued that Malta, despite Prime Minister’s Joseph Muscat’s best attempts to make it appear otherwise, remained a Catholic bastion and that many Maltese did not appreciate the government’s unilateral decisions on matters they felt were contrary to their religious doctrine.

Among the more vocal members to voice their concern within the Executive Committee meeting were staunch Catholic MP Edwin Vassallo and former deputy leader Beppe Fenech Adami.

The changes to the law will make embryo freezing an integral part of the IVF treatment, something that pro-life groups are opposed to. Existing legislation only allows for the freezing of unfertilised eggs, which is ethically non-controversial.

The Bill is also expected to make other sweeping changes, including the introduction of sperm and egg donation, which are currently outlawed. This aspect will make it possible for lesbians and infertile couples to have children.

The age of women who would be able to benefit from IVF would increase to 48 in cases where eggs come from a young donor. It will remain 43, in other cases.

Embryo freezing will be allowed on condition that prospective parents agree to give up unclaimed embryos for adoption. Prospective parents will be issued with a ‘permit’ by the regulator to have their embryos frozen, which can then be extended every five years until the woman is 43.

PN leader Adrian Delia is said to have tried – and failed – to get those attending the committee meeting to reach an agreement as to what the party’s public position should be.

The party’s conservative faction came under criticism by numerous MPs and other senior party officials for being “stuck in the past” and for “defending beliefs that no longer belong to us”.

The same sources told MaltaToday that the vast majority of party officials – allegedly including also Delia – argued that the Labour Party’s landslide win in the last election was indicative of a more progressive way of thinking in the country and that the PN had to move away from its self-imposed conservative mantle if it were to remain relevant.

“Calling all believers”

When contacted, Vassallo would not confirm that the conservative and Catholic MPs within the Executive had come under attack by the more progressive members.

But he did reveal that he, and other like-minded Catholics, were organising a silent vigil in the coming week, and were calling on all Christians and persons of good faith to join them in a protest against the proposed amendments to the Embryo Protection Act.

“The time has come for all those who still value children’s rights and the right to life to take to the streets in protest against the government’s ‘culture of death’”, he said.

Vassallo told MaltaToday that the government’s decision to grant lesbians and single women access to in-vitro fertilisation under sweeping changes was a result of the administration’s insistence on placating everyone, whatever the cost.

“But what right does Joseph Muscat have to make children orphans even before they are born?” he said. “Who gave Muscat the right to play with life?”

On Sunday, Delia said that the government should hve allowed for more discussion on the issue. "While the government only allowed three working days for discussion, I openly accept different opinions on the matter," he said, confirming that he will be allowing for a free-vote and inviting the prime minister to do the same.