Friday, 21 September 2012

Malta Today: What is accepted by society?

[This article isn't online on Malta Today's website. It is publicly posted here with the author's permission.]
5.9.12 by David Pace

Being a minister should not make one automatically paternalistic and Dr. Chris Said is a bit too young to already know what’s good for society. His claim that the cohabitation and IVF bills are based on what society accepts at the present time is quite worrying. Using the same argument, if societies only accepted what was “acceptable” at the present time, they would never have moved on and became fairer and more sympathetic to women, the poor, gays, ethnic minorities, refugees, etc.

When the Suffragette movement in the US managed to obtain the vote for women, was it acceptable at that time?

When Man landed on the Moon, was it acceptable at that time?

When Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando suggested legalising divorce, was it acceptable at that time?

Are IVF and Gay civil union acceptable for this time?

Before answering each question, Dr. Said should answer, what makes him such an expert on was is acceptable for our society during this time? If we look at the Minister’s party regarding divorce, it showed quite a poor understanding of what society wants during this time. The Prime Minister thought Malta was not ready for divorce and yet, a majority voted in favour.

Maybe Minister Said has gotten his hands on a scientific study that suggests that our society is not ready to accept gay civil union or IVF? A simple TV programme vox pop is not scientific, but the edition of Realta’ aired last week on TVM showed clearly that people are in favour of a decent IVF law that provides the best chance for couples to get pregnant. If the Minister has a more scientific vox pop that shows otherwise, he should publish it.

Society changes incrementally but sometimes it has to be pushed as various conservative forces may keep it back for a variety of reasons. Using Dr. Said’s claim, the Taliban are correct in banning women from practising law, medicine, architecture, etc because that’s what the Afghan society is ready to accept at the present time? The same can be said for women drivers in Saudi Arabia. Society there is right to look negatively upon women who drive because the Saudi society is not ready to accept it at this time. So, the courageous woman filmed on youtube who took on the entire chauvinistic Saudi establishment simply because she wasn’t wearing a veil should have complied with the wishes of the society at that time and covered her face? Stoning and beheading are accepted in some Islamic societies and so shouldn’t be legislated against?

The example of the Suffragette movement is an important one. It clearly shows how the wishes of a society can be downright wrong and unfair. If the Suffragette movement hadn’t been so active and hadn’t made such a big fuss, women would still be grossly underpaid and undervalued in society. The effect of the Suffragette movement was beneficial to the women’s plight as it made everyone aware of how unfair women are treated in a male-dominated society and in some instances, still are.

The Lunar Landing is also an interesting example and I chose it as an example to bid farewell to Neil Armstrong who died recently and was the first man to set foot on another world, the Moon.

But was landing on the Moon what the American society wanted at that time?

Many Americans were more interested in saving the younger generation from a horrible death in Vietnam rather than seeing a man land on the Moon. The Lunar Landing was something John. F Kennedy wanted back in 1961 rather than what the Americans wanted in 1969. It was a political decision rather than a social decision to show the “evil Russkies” and the entire world that good ol’ US technology was the best and that a Capitalistic society could trounce a Communist one and do almost impossible feats. This was so true that although nine Lunar Landings were planned, the last two, Apollo 18 and 19 were scrapped and after 40 years no one has returned back to the Moon.

This is analogous to what is happening in our country and has a lot to do with the question of: Is IVF and Gay civil union acceptable for this time?

Personally, I don’t believe the government is legislating according to what society is ready to accept at this time. I rather think that the government is legislating according to how many sections of society it is able to satisfy to maximise the amount of votes it may be able to get from each during the next elections.

Unfortunately, it has chosen badly a couple of controversial bills that are already taking their political toll. How can the government expect to satisfy both the Catholic Church and a Secular Society made of those in need of IVF, if the Catholic Church has already declared IVF as a sin because it replaces the conjugal act?

According to the Catholic Church, IVF is intrinsically sinful and even the government’s fudging of the bill does not satisfy the Church’s stringent requirements. So if the Nationalist Government is pushing a “sinful” Bill, how can it expect the Church to be grateful? Why not introduce a Bill that truly satisfies those in need of IVF? It is impossible to satisfy two irreconcilable and directly opposed views. No one can win against the Church’s Magisterium that is saying that God does not want IVF!

So the Nationalist Government is actually deploying a political and not a social Bill because it is fuelled by political necessity rather than social necessity. Scientists, experts and researchers have already told the government that the scientific basis of IVF as suggested by the Dr. Joe Cassar and Vatican backed Profs. Eleanora Porcu will decrease the effectiveness of the technique to the extent that the only local laboratory specialising in IVF will close down. Many have also critisized the lack of embryo-freezing that will also impact the technique badly; while many commentators are horrified at the “Ethical Reproduction Board” the Bill insists must be established to vet who should and who shouldn’t reproduce.

A similar argument can be extended to the Cohabitation Bill that stays clear from providing anything that can be misconstrued as a “gay marriage” or civil union, and may raise the ire of Catholic Conservatives and the Church. The Bill depends on the Catholic definition of a family when it should be looking at how the European Union looks at so many different forms of families. Legislating in favour of one form of family does not mean the other families will suddenly disappear. It only presents a message that our society doesn’t really care about other forms of families even though they may contribute more towards a society than a “normal” family.

Both the IVF and Cohabitation Bills are inherently discriminatory on the excuse that they are not accepted by society at this point in time. Slavery was accepted by societies two hundred years ago. Where these societies just and fair?

I don’t think so and neither do I think the government is being fair.

No Choosing of Embryos

The current IVF Bill does not allow embryo freezing or embryo selection. The latter is a technique that allows parents with deadly inheritable genetic diseases such as Huntington’s Chorea, Thallasemia Major and Muscle Dystrophy to be able to choose embryos that do not carry the deadly gene, and so will not be born with a terrible debilitating disease or develop it later in life to die a horrible lingering death.

A number of parents have gone abroad to select embryos and test them for the deadly genes. The ones that test positive are removed and the ones that test negative are implanted. Some have given their children the greatest gift any parent can regale a child, the removal of the curse of a deadly terminal disease that pollutes the gene pool and the ability to procreate and produce offspring without the genetic disease.

Such people are surely the most wonderful of parents and their actions are truly commendable providing important benefits not just for their children but to an entire society by ensuring that the gene pool becomes cleaner and deadly inheritable diseases are slowly eradicated.

The current IVF Bill totally ignores such loving parents who actually should be given a dozen “Gieh ir-Repubblika” medals. Many spend tens of thousands of Euros on the technique and are generous enough to provide their children with a bright future free of horrible genetic diseases. The Government should help these people financially because they are providing a service to the entire society.

Unfortunately, neither the Catholic Church nor the Government are sympathetic to the great gift these people are bestowing upon their children and society in general.

David Pace is a science writer

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