Friday, 22 October 2010

Times: IVF proposals may breach human rights – gay movement

Offering artificial fertilisation to unmarried heterosexual couples but prohibiting it for same-sex couples may breach human rights, according to the Malta Gay Rights Movement.

But Nationalist MP Jean Pierre Farrugia, who heads the parliamentary committee making this proposal, said opening IVF to gay couples would have been "impossible".

The MGRM is arguing it will be "very difficult" to legally discriminate between gay and heterosexual cohabiting couples, even on such an issue.

MGRM chairman Gabi Calleja said European case law had declared gay couples as "constituting family life" on the same level as cohabiting heterosexual couples, so there was "no valid human rights basis to deny this access".

Her logic was backed up by former European Court of Human Rights judge, Giovanni Bonello. However, he pointed out things could be viewed differently in the case of complex issues such as artificial fertilisation.

"Although the principle is that you cannot discriminate between homosexual and heterosexual cohabiting couples with things like inheritance and rent, I'm not sure whether the same rule will be applicable where family-oriented issues arise."

He said he did not think this had been challenged at ECHR level yet, so it would be difficult to give a definitive answer until there was a relevant ruling available.

The MGRM's criticism of the recommendation does not stop at the view it may breach human rights. Ms Calleja also pointed out it was "contradictory" for the state to allow single people the chance to adopt children but not allow single people to seek IVF.

"The state is already acknowledging that single parenting is possible and acceptable. So I think there's a contradiction there."

She said if the report was adopted it would send a very negative message that families with same-sex parents should not exist. "But, in effect, they do and should be treated in an equal manner," she stressed, adding there was no research showing that same-sex parenting had a negative impact on children.

The parliamentary committee's recommendation report, which had to decide on issues of eligibility, embryo freezing and donation of gametes, was published on Tuesday.

It suggested IVF treatment should be financed by the state to make it accessible to all infertile couples and that freezing of embryos should be permitted.

However, it did not accept the donation of sperm and ova by third parties. This is the main reason why IVF cannot be offered to single people or gay couples.

Dr Farrugia said due to "economies of scale" and a strict EU directive, it would be very difficult for Malta to provide the facilities to donate gametes. "Basically, at the moment we don't have the option of donation of gametes and for gay couples that's already a problem. If you can't get a gamete donated, a gay couple can never have a child."

He added that the committee's brief was to choose between giving this option to a married couple and opening it up to stable unmarried couples. "It wasn't in our remit to provide it to a single person," he said, adding, that the committee had, however, argued against surrogacy because the point of the legislation was to provide IVF to infertile couples rather than fertile couples who required artificial fertilisation to conceive.

However, Dr Farrugia, who drew up the report with MP Frans Agius and Labour MP Michael Farrugia, pointed out that their recommendations also had to be "achievable" and acceptable to the rest of the MPs.

"At the end of the day, politics is the art of the possible. It was impossible to try to go further. It's already difficult this way. If we tried to go further in one go it would have been impossible."

He said he was sorry the needs of gay people could not be met but pointed out that the MGRM never provided written submissions to this effect.

[Click on the hyperlink above to view the comments on the Times' website.]

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