Thursday, 28 October 2010

Malta Today: IVF – who is entitled to treatment?
Tuesday, October 26, 2010 by Rachel Zammit Cutajar

Gay couples will be refused the right to have children if donation of gametes is not allowed

‘Stable relationships’ are no guarantee that IVF babies will live in families with a lasting marriage (ask Jon and Kate Gosselin…). But this new category dreamt up by our MPs will close the door to good parents, straight and gay, who want to avail themselves of artificial insemination.

The issue of whether single women or gay women, or gay men and surrogate mothers should have access to artificial insemination remains highly debatable.

Our MPs want to legislate a future where certain groups of people cannot have children. Concerned about the prospects of opening the ‘floodgates to parenthood’, the door appears closed to single and gay parents whose only chance of parenthood is in vitro fertilisation.

In calling for a definition of a ‘stable relationship’ – one that doctors will understand from a couple’s medical records – the parliamentary committee on assisted reproduction has made access to IVF something only heterosexual couples have.

Dr Josie Muscat, CEO of the St James Group, restricts treatment to women “who are in a stable relationship” and claims he will refuse treatment if the rights of the child to be brought up in a family atmosphere are jeopardized.

“It is not specifically marital status that determines whether or not I would treat a couple. A couple in a stable relationship are just as likely to ensure an ideal family upbringing as a married couple.

“Medical records will give away whether or not the woman is in a stable relationship, as IVF is not a treatment embarked upon on a whim. There are a number of tests and other treatments that precede IVF and if she has had the constant support of a partner then treatment can go ahead.”

That would mean that gay men who choose a surrogate mother, or gay women who choose a sperm donor would have to set up a rather convincing (and misleading) front to present themselves as some bona fide couple.

If the most famous IVF family is anything to go by, the divorce of Jon and Kate Gosselin – parents to twins and sextuplets and stars of Jon and Kate Plus Eight – shows that ‘stable relationships’ don’t necessarily last.

Muscat notes that Malta enjoys success rates of some 58% to 60% in assisted reproduction, as opposed to the 45% success rate in the USA. At the moment it costs in the region of €4,000 for one IVF including medication.

“We get couples coming for treatment from all over the world, including the UK the USA, Africa and Nigeria… I am concerned however, that local gynaecologists do not seem to be aware of the services we offer and are sending people seeking treatment overseas. Just this week I saw a couple who were sent by their gynaecologist to Brussels where they paid for three unsuccessful cycles.”

But couples who fear they will be refused IVF in Malta will keep on seeking treatment abroad.

Gabi Calleja, coordinator for the Malta Gay Rights Movement, says that limiting IVF to heterosexual couples goes against human rights for same sex couples to have a family.

She says that banning donation of gametes will prohibit single mothers and same sex couples from using ART and goes against the principles of equal rights established by the European Court of Human Rights.

“While the decision to provide access to assisted reproduction treatments to cohabiting couples in stable relationships is most welcome, the fact that this has been limited to heterosexual couples is discriminatory and goes against the principles of equal treatment as established by the European Court of Human Rights.

“The decision to restrict assisted reproduction services to couples is inconsistent with the government’s current legislation and policy with respect to fostering and adoption both of which allow individuals to apply as single parent.”

The MGRM has urged government to ensure that any legislation enacted is inclusive and respectful of international human rights principles as enshrined in various treaties and conventions and to provide equal treatment to all its citizens, particularly in access to health services.

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