An embryo is a new, unique individual produced when an egg from a woman is fertilised by a sperm from a man. An embryo is made up of cells, a new born baby from a larger number of cells and an adult is made of an even larger number of cells. Indeed, one needs to watch out for terms such as ‘fertilized eggs’, ‘fertilized cells’, or ‘cells from fertilized eggs’ being used instead of the term ‘embryo’, as this may desensitise us to the fact that the embryo is a new human life.
The proposed Bill regarding embryos discriminates against these individuals both when they are still embryos but also way after they are born.
It also forces already vulnerable IVF couples to choose between increasing their chances of becoming parents but then donating their extra embryos for adoption by unknown individuals, or doing IVF with a decreased chance of success.
Research conducted abroad shows that over 80 per cent of IVF couples would rather let their embryos die or be donated to research, than having to live with the knowledge of having their biological children being brought up by people who they have no say in choosing. Can we blame them?
Moreover, both the children of the couple and those adopted will essentially know they have full siblings who they can never know about or get to know.
People born as a result of embryo adoption will have the right to access the anonymised medical records of their biological parents.
But, anonymous records cannot be updated. This means that biological children of a 20-year-old donor who was in good health at the time of donation but still died young from an inherited medical condition will have no clue as to what their risks are.
Under normal circumstances, of course, the children of such a person would be tested and have their health managed. But no such luck for these children.
Another reality for extra embryos is that with the introduction of sperm and egg donation, the chances of the embryos being adopted is small in the first place.
Most same-sex couples, that have been mentioned as those interested in adopting, would rather have the biological child of one of them, given the choice. Especially since the frozen embryos that will be up for adoption will be those not chosen for the couple producing them, i.e. not the ‘best’.
This means most embryos will be left to disintegrate, die or otherwise be lost.
The fact is that thawing embryos already kills one out of three and apart from this, alarms and apparati can fail, as we have seen lately in the case where several couples lost their embryos.
Sperm and egg donation create another set of problems which can affect both the couples receiving the donation and their future children. The Bill proposes that there would be an Embryo Authority which will licence clinics offering the service.
However, it leaves the vetting of who can donate up to the licensed clinics.
The clinic will have to send all records to the authority but donations will be anonymous. So, how will the authority be able to prevent a person donating more than once and prevent half siblings having children between themselves in future?
It is not like in our tiny Malta the chances of meeting is small.
The possibility of inheritance of serious genetic conditions would be considerable in these cases. Also, how will the clinics vet for genetic conditions in the first place?
These are serious problems which the Bill does not even begin to address.
Presently, pregnant mothers are tested for common genetic conditions. If a mother is found to be a carrier of a condition the father is tested. In the case of anonymous sperm donation this will be impossible. This likely possibility is also not addressed in the new Bill.
Considering all the issues and all the individuals that will have their lives affected by this Bill, more time and care should be given in order to best protect all parties involved.
Rushing through the process, as presently done, is both reckless and insane.
Svetlana Schembri Wismayer is a Junior College senior lecturer.