Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Malta Today: No access to IVF for gay couples – national women’s council

National Council of Women says egg freezing best solution to ethical dilemma over frozen embryos.
Thursday 2 August 2012 - 09:21 by  Matthew Vella

The new law will only allow the fertilisation of two eggs at a time, while the rest 
of the harvested eggs will be frozen.

The National Council of Women has come out in support of the draft IVF law that seeks to ban the freezing of embryos and instead introduce oocyte vitrification, or egg freezing, to skirt the ethical dilemma of what to do with supernumerary embryos.

Often on the frontline of equality battles - their latest appeal was for political parties to recruit an equal number of women and men candidates for the forthcoming elections - the NCW however said IVF should not be made available for gay couples, and even raised questions about what a 'stable relationship' for unmarried couples should be defined as.

"IVF treatment should be for heterosexuals within a stable family environment. The council has always supported the protection of embryos as the first cell of a human life and, with the development of alternative treatment over the past years this has become possible successfully," the new president of the council, Mary Gaerty, said in a statement.

The bill bans the donation of eggs and sperm that would otherwise allow single parents or gay couples to have a family using IVF.

The new law will only allow the fertilisation of two eggs at a time, while the rest of the harvested eggs will be frozen. Embryos will only be frozen in extreme cases where there is no option to implant the blastocyst.

But the NCW said it wanted better clarification of the 'force majeure' conditions and also an interpretation of what a stable relationship will be defined as, in the law.

Gaerty claimed "recent studies" provided evidence that further developments in egg freezing would give better results. "Women's fertility peaks when women are in their early twenties. Statistics today show that many women are postponing their pregnancies until much later due to a number of reasons. This is contributing to many women having problems in conceiving and looking for help later on in life."

Gaerty said freezing eggs eliminated legal and ethical problems of ownership. "The ethical, religious and moral issues involved during the process of embryo freezing, which no court is comfortable with when deciding on the matter of frozen embryo ownership, are eliminated when oocyte vitrification is opted for. Complex problems due to the negative aspects of embryo freezing of a legal nature result when split couples enter into acrimonious battles over ownership of the embryo."

The council said it supported the free access to IVF for couples, as well as psychological assistance before, during and after the process, and access to information for the treatment.

Justice minister Chris Said yesterday defended the ban on gay parents to have children using IVF, which excludes same-sex couples, saying the government's interest is for children to be brought up in a family with a mother and a father.

"We feel this is better for the children," he said yesterday in a visit to the National Council of Women.

Prospective parents have to be certified by the new embryology authority, which according to the draft Embryo Protection law can only be married couples or opposite-sex couples in a stable relationship.

The Malta Gay Rights Movement on Tuesday hit out at Malta's draft law, claiming the Embryo Protection Bill was discriminatory against gay parents and "inherently homophobic in nature".

MGRM coordinator Gabi Calleja said the exclusion of same-sex couples and single persons from the eligible prospective parents as defined in the law, went against basic human rights principles such as the right to found a family.

The bill also prohibits surrogacy, which means electing another woman other than a married spouse to bear the child for another couple.

Calleja said a law that would deny medical treatment on the basis of sexual orientation would constitute a worrying precedent. "It has reaching implications and engenders serious doubts in the minds of lesbian and gay citizens on this government's commitment to equality."

"The criminalisation of sperm and egg donation has absolutely nothing to do with the protection of the embryo and is based on a restrictive model of the family which no longer applies in today's world. MGRM reiterates that it is not the role of the State to determine who can or cannot become a parent and the introduction of this Act would constitute an unjustified intrusion in the private lives of individuals," Calleja said.

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