Freezing not the only way – Tony Mifsud

In his article Eight cells in the lab  (May 2) Mark Sant, an obstetrician and gynaecologist, a consultant at the Assisted Reproductive Technology Clinic at Mater Dei Hospital, said that “he wants to concentrate on the situation wherein a heterosexual couple come to me asking for help after several years of trying to conceive to no avail”. 

He wrote: “I don’t tell them that nature does not mean for them to complete their family.” That’s a very good compassionate approach from an obstetrician and gynaecologist.

He added: “The European Charter of Human Rights states that everyone has a right to health, and infertility is listed as a health issue, too.” That’s also a very good approach  to begin with.

He added further: “In the very same way that all specialists in medicine have an obligation to remain up to date in their area of expertise, to be able to offer the best possible care to their patients, we who work in infertility are no different.”

Sant seems to be keeping himself up to date selectively, only about one particular medical model to resolve the issue of infertility, the IVF and embryo freezing method. He  seems to be  totally  unaware of the natural method to infertility, another non-medical model. One may  ask a nutritionist and dietician on this, anywhere in  the world, including Malta, and he or she starts to talk at length on the great benefits of this model.

It is true, as Sant says, that the rate of infertility is increasing in many parts of the world, including Malta, and that many couples in particular, are desperate to conceive. Sant should have defined the main problem he was writing about – what are the causes of infertility – before  making gratuitous statements.

These causes are not only physiological to be treated by gynaecologists and obstetricians like Sant.

In  the description of “the best natural infertility treatment” by leading nutritionists and dieticians it includes poor nutrition, emotional stress, sexually transmitted diseases, thyroid disorders, medical conditions, eating disorders, excessive obesity, and hormonal problems.

Alcohol is another problem connected with infertility. It increases inflammation and reduces the immune function. For women, heavy drinking is associated with an increased risk of ovulation disorders. For men, it decreases sperm production.

Caffeine also can cause hormonal imbalances, dehydration and lead to mineral deficiencies. High consumption has been shown to interfere with fertility. Lowering caffeine or giving it up entirely is a smart idea when one is trying to get pregnant.

Drugs, like marijuana, can negatively affect fertility by making ovulation more difficult each month.

To cure infertility nutritionists and dieticians recommend not IVF and embryo freezing but eating a healing diet.

Another natural infertility treatment is to consume more fertility-promoting supplements.

The good news, nutritionists say, is that most couples will eventually conceive, without costly and often invasive infertility treatments. The success rate here is about 80 per cent. The success rate of IVF and embryo freezing is about 25 per cent.

If Sant knows about the natural method to fertility, and as a gynaecologist he must know about it,  it is obvious he is deliberately discarding it,  as frozen embryos are eventually discarded  in his medical model to infertility. 

At a certain point  in his article, Sant said that “he would have loved to be acclaimed as the Maltese pioneer to have put forward certain beliefs on this subject”, and  then quoted Fr Peter Serracino Inglott, a philosopher, not a scientist, who, according to Sant, “did not equate the early embryo to a human being and had no qualms with embryo freezing”.

He added further: “And I’m not even mentioning science.” That was a stark admission that he is leaving science, altogether, out of the fertility/infertility problem.

Notwithstanding, he felt presumptuously comfortable in making a gratuitous scientific declaration that “eight cells in the laboratory is not a human being. It has the potential to become one using very extraordinary measures. The potential ‘to be’ is not equivalent to ‘being’.”

The deputy prime minister said it before.   

Sant seems to possess the credentials of a champion of the throw-away culture at its best. 

In 1960, Bernard Nathanson, an obstetrician and gynaecologist like Sant, was for a time the director of the Centre for Reproductive and Sexual Health (CRASH), seemingly also like Sant at Mater Dei Hospital. CRASH was then the largest freestanding abortion facility in the world.

In 1974 Nathanson wrote: “I am deeply troubled by my own increasing certainty that I had in fact presided over 60,000 deaths.”

Nathanson  developed in 1996 what he called the “vector theory of life”, which states that from the moment of conception there exists “a self-directed force of life that, if not interrupted, will lead to the birth of a human baby”.

In 1981, a United States Senate judiciary subcommittee invited experts to testify on the question of when life begins. Jerome Lejeune, professor of genetics at the University of Descartes in Paris and the discoverer of the chromosome pattern of Down Syndrome, told the judiciary subcommittee that “after fertilisation has taken place a new human being has come into being”. 

He stated that this “is no longer a matter of taste or opinion”  and “not a metaphysical contention: it is plain experimental evidence… Each individual  has a very neat beginning at conception.”

Sant seems not to have heard about Nathanson and Lejeune. 

He also lambasted all those who do not agree with him: “All the vociferous anti-IVF-reform campaigners have one thing in common. They have staunch extreme Catholic beliefs.” He forgot he had previously quoted a  Catholic philosopher-priest to prove his point.

Very respectable local institutions like the Malta Paediatric Association, the Faculty of Social Well-Being of the University of Malta, and 100 academics practically from all the university faculties,  expressed their views on this subject publicly and categorically, very contrary to his own.    

There is also adoption and fostering for childless couples. The government should subsidise these services much more, especially adoption.  

This newspaper should be congratulated for advising that “women who eat fast food and little or no fruit take longer to become pregnant” (May 5) while also  showing the beauty and greatness  of adoption services in its May issue of Pink magazine.

Sant should really lead. He should work also for the strengthening of these services to help infertile couples have children. That’s his pledge to them.

Tony Mifsud is coordinator, Malta Unborn Child Movement.

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