Wednesday, 22 August 2012

MHA: Reaction to the Embryo Protection Bill

The Malta Humanist Association (MHA), Press Release, by Ramon Casha, PRO

With the people of Malta having shown a strong preference for civil law to be decided in a secular manner, the new “Embryo Protection Bill” is rather jarring in its extreme and conservative tone. The Malta Humanist Association will be giving a detailed assessment and critique for the Bill “for the protection of embryos”, but at this early stage wishes to point out the matters that seem to be most urgent, until the final report is complete.

A major concern is the inherent discrimination found in the Bill, whereby single parents and gay persons are wilfully excluded from the provision of Assisted Reproductive Services, without a valid ethical rationale. This is clearly in breach of the fundamental right to family and a right to a private life, as stipulated by the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights. We are equally concerned at the comment that Hon. Chris Said expressed, in which the Justice Minister excused the discriminatory favouring of heterosexual couples only, by virtue of “feelings”. In other words the Minister of Justice is excusing discriminatory legislation by an emotive and/or ideological argument, which is unreasonable and unacceptable and upon which he is invited to clarify his position further. Research, including ones performed by the American Psychological Association, shows that children raised in single parent households and by same-sex couples are not at all disadvantaged or worse off than children raised by opposite-sex couples.1 There is no reason for persons seeking assisted reproductive technologies to face any additional legal hurdles beyond those applicable to couples reproducing in the natural manner. Neither is there any ethical reason for the prohibition of gamete donation, any more than there is for donating an organ. The law already has clauses on who is legally recognised as the parents, so this does not pose any difficulties in that regard.

The Malta Humanist Association is also concerned about the authority that will be regulating eligibility for Assisted Reproductive Technologies. This is tantamount to the licensing of parenthood, also in breach of the right to family, where a state-appointed board has the power to deny a person or persons, the ability to procreate, based on an ideological rationale that is shaky at best. Moreover, this committee should exist as a committee to defend the rights of all those involved in the process of Reproductive technologies and should act as a regulator of clinical excellence rather than a licensing department for parenthood. The same rationale is applied to the title of the Bill, which unfairly excludes patients and healthcare professionals from the scope of the law; the bill should be named 2012 Act for Assisted Reproductive Technologies.

The restrictions that are being applied by this highly forbidding bill, are not going to allow for an IVF framework that allows for the best alleviator of the suffering of infertility possible. They will force the Maltese Tax Payer to dig deep into its pockets, forking out millions on an experimental technology that may not give the desired results. The Ad Hoc Committee also recommended embryonic freezing, for the simple reason that the formations of multiple embryos will allow embryologists to choose the best forming blastocysts with the highest chance of a successful implantation. This is a separate issue from freezing or vitrification of gametes or embryos. Ultimately pregnancies start and infertility is perceived as “cured” once implantation takes place.

Comments have been published concerning the “laws of nature”, or “as mother nature intended” to justify these restrictions. While we are indeed part of nature, we are humans, and one of the things that sets us apart from other animals is that we do not meekly accept the verdicts of nature lying down. When we sicken we don't curl up and die. We don't restrict our travel to the distance our legs can carry us. We have created science, medicine and technology and these are there for the betterment of society and our lives. What was impossible a couple of decades ago is possible today, but sometimes we need to let go of certain ancient prejudices and fears. IVF is just another medical procedure, and there is no justification to limiting its scope or restricting it from minority.
1 Shireman, J. F. (1996). Single Parent Adoptive Homes. Children and Youth Services Review , 18 (1-2), 23-36;
Goldberg, A. E. (2010). Lesbian and Gay Parents and their Children: Research on the Family Life Cycle. USA: American Psychological Association (APA).

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