Saturday, 25 August 2012

Malta Today: Josie Muscat convinced he never did anything wrong on IVF
Wednesday 8 August 2012 - 08:33,  Jurgen Balzan

Private hospital owner Josie Muscat understands the Catholic Church’s stand on IVF but insists he never offered services which he terms as “abusive”.

Josie Muscat said he always refused to offer IVF to gay persons.

The owner of the St James Hospital Group and former Nationalist MP, Josie Muscat, said that he understood the Catholic Church's stand on IVF but insisted that during the past 23 years in which he has been offering IVF services in his private hospital he refrained from offering services which he termed "abusive".

A bill to regulate IVF launched by justice and health ministers Chris Said and Joe Cassar has marked a policy shift towards the science of egg freezing and a ban on embryo freezing, except in exceptional medical cases.

In regulating a service that has so far been practised freely for the past 23 years by private hospitals, the new law will for the first time offer IVF to both married and unmarried couples on the national health system, as well as set up an authority that will regulate medical protocols and best practice on IVF.

Speaking on Reporter the former politician turned private hospital owner, said that in the past 23 years up to 600 children were born through IVF in Malta.

Malta's bishops sounded their opposition to the legal regulation of in vitro fertilization, in a pastoral letter in which they declared that every technical method that replaces the personal conjugal act "is not acceptable".

The deeply religious Muscat ,who is one of only two qualified doctors offering IVF in Malta, said that despite the lack of legislation, the St James hospital had established its own parameters, stressing that he was convinced that he had done nothing wrong, in terms of the Vatican's stand.

He explained that centres in other countries whose only activity is IVF offer a wide variety of services which include the disposal of embryos, surrogate motherhood and the selection of sex in IVF.

On the controversy of freezing embryos, Muscat said that no law law stopped them from freezing embryos and eggs. "But we never did it."

"In an ideal world this would be perfect but in reality it is saying to the couples, you have one chance in hell to get pregnant. Don't play around people's health and lives. You can do this in your lovely hospital but we wont give false hopes to couples."

In recent comments to MaltaToday, Muscat had said he is starting to think about closing shop. "They are trying to please everybody," he said about the new law. "And this will reduce the success rate of IVF which could lead to people seeking such treatment abroad," he said of the government's intention to effectively ban the current practice of fertilising more than two eggs and implant more than two embryos.

Asked whether he fears the competition from the national health system, which will offer the service for free, Muscat said: "people will be able to judge the difference between the two hospitals after a year or two and I am convinced people will return to us."

Following the publication of the draft law, the Malta Gay Rights Movement hit out at the law, claiming the Embryo Protection Bill is discriminatory against gay parents and "inherently homophobic in nature".

Muscat said: "As a medic and as a human the interest of the child takes precedence over the interests of the parents. I believe that it is in the best interest of the child to have a mother and a father and not two women or two men."

He added that he always refused the treatment to gay couples, although he has nothing against gay persons.

The inevitable emphasis on protecting human embryos makes Malta's IVF law particular because it will not allow the freezing of embryos, but adopt the science of oocyte vitrification. This means that women who are hyper-stimulated to produce an excess of eggs will have a maximum of two fertilised for implantation, while the rest of the eggs will be frozen.

Ethically, the government also skirted the issue of freezing excess embryos that can be normally created in IVF when these are not implanted. However, the new law provides exceptions under a blanket 'force majeure' proviso, to be decided by the new authority when embryo freezing can be allowed, and whether such embryos can be put for up for adoption - for example, in the case of the mother's death.

[Click on the hyperlink above to view the comments on Malta Today's website.]

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