The Bill amending the Embryo Protection Act 2012 embodies a philosophy of law that is completely distinct from the philosophy of the original 2012 law. Misleadingly clothed as ‘amendments’ to the 2012 law, the Bill embodies a totally new philosophy.
An initial observation is necessary. Sometimes, one may feel in conscience impelled to speak out when an important issue is eminently ethical. When on a given ethical issue a stand is taken, it cannot in fairness be called “meddling in politics”.
I now take up three specific issues.
Firstly, if the proposed Bill is passed, Maltese law would recognise an unrestricted right to adults who desire it to have a child within our national health system. Now if the embryo’s mother will not be carrying the child herself, then another woman must stand in for her. Thus surrogate motherhood “has” to be introduced.
At a forum organised by the Christian Life Communities (CLC) at the University Chaplaincy, moral theologian Nadia Delicata emotionally but most correctly blasted surrogacy as “double objectification”: both the embryo and the surrogate mother are there reduced to objects (Times of Malta, April 24).
Sweden’s Social-Democratic government, “the first feminist government in the world”, in 2016 totally banned surrogacy in Sweden. So ‘liberal’ Sweden has banned surrogacy as offending the dignity of woman.
At a conference on women’s rights in 2017, feminists and Catholics joined forces to condemn surrogacy as totally “incompatible with the human rights and the dignity of women”.
Secondly, the present Bill, were it to become law, would guarantee the total anonymity of all adults involved in an IVF process through gamete-donation: a child born out of the said process can never discover who her/his biological parents are. This gives 100 per cent protection to the adults involved, while giving zero importance to the legitimate interests of the child.
We can easily end up with half-brothers and half-sisters marrying, which in the small genetic pool of our Maltese community, could have significant long-term genetic consequences.
Thirdly, since life begins at conception, freezing an embryo is tantamount to freezing a human being. When embryos are later thawed, statistically anything up to 25 per cent of them die a natural death. In other words, setting up an embryo-freezing facility implies that one in four of those human beings with immense potential would be condemned to die before they have even opened their eyes.
Read in depth, the new Bill would bring about a total change in perspective as regards IVF. The 2012 Maltese law was carefully modelled on its Italian counterpart law, the 2004 law regarding Fecondazione Assistita.
The Italian law and hence our 2012 law placed the embryo/foetus/baby at the centre of legislative attention, thereby also sending a subliminal message to the public that, even prescinding from religion, it is eminently human and ethically absolutely correct to put the vulnerable little person at the very centre of IVF legislation.
This did not mean that the desires of adults were/are not important, and insofar as such concerns were, at least in secular (non-religious) ethics, acceptable, they were in fact met by the 2012 Act. That law however stopped short of giving the adults all they wanted, particularly if this could only come about at the expense of the little vulnerable human being.
What we could call the fundamental philosophy of the 2012 Malta law concerning IVF was that the interests of the embryo/foetus/child were paramount.
In sharp contrast to the 2012 Malta law, the fundamental philosophy of the present Bill is consciously to favour, not the embryo/foetus/child, but the adults involved. The Prime Minister was keen that this legislation would be rushed through Parliament. This had happened at least once before – after the 2013 election, when, as promised in the electoral manifesto, same-sex marriage was approved, but with an added element not to be found in the manifesto – the possibility of adoption by same-sex couples.
It will escape nobody that this is exactly the same philosophy of law that animates the present ‘amendments’: please the adults, don’t ask what might or might not be in the best interests of the children.
It is sad that some, who are intellectually gifted, have attempted to present this as an issue mostly concerning the interests of adult minorities. In the light of the multi-faceted ethical concerns presented above (and expressed better elsewhere by others), these persons have completely missed the point.
The Prime Minister (April 23) acknowledged that some ‘genuine’ criticism against the amendments was offered. Besides former Labour Cabinet members George Vella and Deborah Schembri, serious concerns about the ‘amendments’ were also expressed by the Maltese bishops, the Malta Paediatric Society and doctors and scientists, raising various scientific points, including possible incest and the gradual degeneration of the genetic pool, lawyers viewing the matter from a human rights perspective, philosophers writing about the violation of the dignity of the human embryo… indeed citizens from all walks of life have criticised the ‘amendments’.
All finally finding powerful expression in the presence of the many thousands of people who thronged Valletta on April 22 to protest against the ‘amendments’.
Dr Muscat argues that the 2017 electoral manifesto and his success at the polls give him a strong mandate to ‘improve’ the 2012 IVF law. Improve yes, radically change no! The ‘amendments’, far from being an “improvement” on the 2012 Embryo Protection Act, would de facto lead to the “complete travesty” that George Vella spoke of.
The 2012 law would be shamelessly deformed, its noble original purposes totally debased.