In breach of the Maltese Constitution by Dr. Michael Asciak


In sections of the Maltese press, the head of the Medicines Authority in Malta, Professor Anthony Serracino Inglott states that there is no scientific reason why emergency contraception products should not be authorised for sale in Malta. He says scientific studies show that emergency contraception cannot interrupt an established pregnancy or harm a developing embryo. It seems he is speaking about the effects of Levonorgestrel on the uterus. There are other preparations (ulipristal, mifepristone) available for use as an emergency contraceptive device, some work in a similar fashion to Levonorgestrel (affects higher progesterone levels), and some work differently.

There is an implicit pun, play on words or trick in the utterances of the Medicine Authority’s chief. He states quite clearly that this pill cannot interrupt an established pregnancy or harm a developing embryo. In other sections of the press, he has already stated that for him, pregnancy starts at nidation or implantation of the embryo in the uterus. However, everyone knows that human life starts at conception or fertilisation which occurs seven days before that event in the fallopian tube, before the embryo travels down the tube where implantation normally occurs (or not) in the uterine body. In fact, sometimes the embryo implants in the fallopian tube and there is then an ectopic pregnancy! It is quite possible that Levonorgestrel may not disturb an already implanted embryo, and even on this there is academic doubt, but there is no doubt that there is the ever present possibility of prevention of nidation or implantation of the human embryo with Levonorgestrel and other drugs. That, Professor Serracino Inglott does not say, quite conveniently!

The Medicines Authority in Malta is a pharmaceutical expert and authority on the action of medicines on human beings. It is not an expert in Bioethics or one which determines when human life begins. All experts in Embryology as attested by the Terminologia Embryologica define human life as starting at complete fertilisation of the ovum by the sperm (stage E2. – Zygotum; Embryo Syngamicum, stage 1c Gradus Carnegiensis – Carnegie Stages of human development). Besides this, such deliberations should not be the remit of the Medicines Authority but of a Bioethics Committee which has never been appropriately set up and remains without a head after its chairperson Deborah Schembri became Parliamentary Secretary. I have already written at length that issues of Bioethics should not be academically handled by politicians or by public debate first, but by a properly constituted National Bioethics Committee (as in other EU countries) properly established by law (not ad hoc) with multidisciplinary representation from the appropriate disciplines including the sciences and the humanities especially philosophy. The National Bioethics Committee in Italy works beautifully and is an example to behold.

However, there are other issues of a legal nature here. Maltese law already defines what an embryo is. In the Embryo Protection Act which all PL and PN deputies voted in favour of in 2012, including Minister Helena Dalli who seems to want to rely on the Medicines Authority exclusively to satisfy her own purported civil rights purposes (not the right to life of a human being it seems!), the Embryo is defined in article 2 as:

“‘Embryo’” means the human organism that result from the fertilisation of a human egg cell by a human sperm cell which is capable of developing and shall further include each totipotent cell removed from an embryo or otherwise produced that is assumed to be able to divide and to develop as a human being under the appropriate conditions.”

Nowhere here is the definition of pregnancy mentioned or defined as the implantation of the embryo into the uterus! Human life starts at but is not limited to fertilisation (conception) as totipotent cells can be formed by other means which same law also protects the human embryo. Modern epigenetics and genetics today prove more than ever that human life starts at fertilisation. Article 8 (1) of the same law states: “Whosoever, other than for the purpose of implantation in a woman as may be authorised by the provisions of this Act disposes of, hands over or acquires a human embryo produced outside the body, or removes such embryo from a woman before the completion of implantation in the womb, shall be guilty of an offence and, on conviction, shall be liable to the punishment of a fine (multa) of not less than five thousand euro (5,000) and not exceeding fifteen thousand euro (15,000) or to imprisonment not exceeding three years or to both such fine and imprisonment.”

Maybe Minister Dalli has a short memory and seems to have forgotten that she too voted for this law and that she too is liable under the law, or maybe she needs to ask the opinion of the Embryo Protection Authority which is established by the same law and which has certain powers and obligations with regard to the same law’s application.

In the Maltese Constitution, Article 33 (1), it is written as: “No person shall intentionally be deprived of his life save in execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence under the law of Malta of which he has been convicted.”

The Maltese language version of the Constitution which is superior to the British translation goes even further and uses the word “Hadd” meaning no one or nobody and therefore specifically refers to a human being, which human being is proved by science to start at conception.

I already stated in a previous article that especially in cases where there is violence in the sexual act there is a moral case for the use of certain formulations of the morning after pill before ovulation has occurred and there is a simple urine test for this to be ascertained. Before ovulation has occurred the pill does work by preventing fertilisation and by preventing ovulation, that is, no egg is released from the ovary and if such egg is realised no fertilisation is able to take place, sperm and ovum are not able to unite. These details and circumstances have to be left to the doctor and the patient to administer together. In the light of this, the state would be right in approving Levonorgestrel for the specific indication for use before ovulation has occurred, as it is today indeed legally approved in a lower dose as a method of ordinary contraception and as a five year slow-release intra-uterine formulation. On or after ovulation, approval or prescription of the high dose drug would lead to breaking Maltese law and the Maltese Constitution. Administrative decisions to that effect would also be in breach of the law and the Maltese Constitution.

I have always held that women have a right to decide issues regarding their own fertility but these rights have to give way to the right to life of any other human being which prima facie is way above all other human rights and claims. It is a first degree right so to speak, that the right of innocent human to life is absolute. The golden rule of wishing for others what one would have wished for oneself holds water here!


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