Embryo freezing saves more embryos than the current system, Fearne says

The parliamentary debate on the amendments to the IVF law started this evening • Deputy Prime Minister and Health Minister Chris Fearne said the bill is a pro-life measure • Nationalist party leader Adrian Delia says the bill will force women in poverty into paid surrogacy 

The amendments which began to be discussed in Parliament today to the IVF law are pro-life, Deputy Prime Minister and Health Minister Chris Fearne said, as embryo freezing saves more embryos than the system which currently exists.

Fearne said that we need to do away with “the idea that we will be killing embryos or not protecting them.”

“The law as it is today actually does damage to embryos, while our amendments are a pro-life measure.”

The majority of embryos which come about from frozen eggs are lost, whereas the rate of success is almost double for embryo freezing, Fearne said. “We don’t want embryos to go to waste because they came from frozen eggs, but we want them to develop into babies.”

When members of the Opposition interrupted Fearne’s speech and commotion ensued, the minister clarified that an embryo is made up of eight cells, while an adult human has hundreds of millions of cells.

“We are not freezing a baby and putting it in the fridge,” he said in response to the “fear-mongering” efforts of “some people” including the media.

Read also: An idiot’s guide to how the law will change

Fearne said that while IVF has existed in Malta for a long time, it wasn’t being regulated.

“Infertility doesn’t affect only one or two persons, but 18% of people. This is a large number of people – thousands –who need this medical service,” Fearne said.

Fearne said that this law already began to be debated in the last legislature, explaining that amendments to the law were already being discussed at length years ago. “So for those who say that this is being done hastily, it is not true. We have discussing this for years, now is the time to continue discussing and also to decide.”

Read also: Changes to Malta's IVF law backed by European infertility advocacy group

Parliament already agreed on the principle of equality, particularly when it voted in favour of equal marriage and adoption, Fearne said. “You cannot give someone the right to have a family and then not allow them the opportunity to actually do this.”

Fearne clarified that donation can only happen once, thereby removing the risk of children being related to each other unknowingly.

Fearne also announced that the government will be producing a consultancy document related to surrogacy for wide discussion outside of parliament, but insisted that ‘altruistic surrogacy’ will be decriminalised.

Nationalist party leader Adrian Delia said that the majority of people are against the amendments, and that if the government is genuine, it should consider wider consultancy with stakeholders before passing the amendments.

Delia said that Fearne is incorrect in implying that the Opposition is “fear-mongering” or that it wants to put people in prison for surrogacy. He also pointed out that Fearne spoke about infertile persons for 45 mins, but spent only three minutes speaking about surrogacy, and that the rights of children were not mentioned at all.

Read also: Hundreds protest proposed amendments to IVF laws

The PN leader also took issue with Fearne’s statement that an embryo is made up of eight cells. “Just because it has eight cells, is it not human?” he said, explaining that the 2012 law clearly defines an embryo as human.

“The amendments being proposed are not changing these definitions. This is why this is not an IVF law, or a law which protects the embryo – these are careless ideas,” Delia said, saying that the government wants this bill to pass in a few days.

Delia said that the Commissioner for Children, due to her stance in favour of the bill, is not protecting children “Who will protect the child in the womb?” he asked.

Read also: Children's Commissioner comes out in favour of IVF bill 

Delia expressed concern on how a prospective parent will be matched with the embryo, to which PL MP Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi interjected to say that the PN leader is attempting to ridicule a serious discussion.

The bill does not specify that surrogacy in exchange for payment will not be allowed, Delia said, but instead uses the term “commercialised surrogacy”, which he said is not the same, adding that the government does not have a mandate for surrogacy.

Delia said that surrogacy objectifies women. “With surrogacy, women and children are minimised not to eight cells, but to an object.”  

The PN leader went on to say that the bill will lead to women in poverty being forced to "rent out" their reproductive organs in order to accept payment for surrogacy. 

PL MP Rosianne Cutajar said that infertility is a medical condition, and that the state has a duty to provide medical services for it.

“I want to live in a pro-choice country, which allows me to choose which treatment to undergo,” she said, insisting that an embryo is not a baby, and that the amendment is not one to “kill babies.”

PN MP and spokesperson for health Stephen Spiteri said that although an embryo is only made up of eight cells, a heartbeat can be heard in the womb after four weeks. The Opposition’s antagonism “doesn’t mean that we don’t want to help infertile couples, but we want to do this without damaging human life,” he said.

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