It is becoming a habit of this progressive government that when it wants to introduce a change, it precedes its actions by thinking up a story, a narrative that is essentially a false one. We have it from Minister Helen Dalli’s own mouth that when she wanted to bring in changes to the marriage and family laws she took everyone for a ride by creating a false narrative on equality. It seems that on the issue of IVF and embryo freezing, the government wants to do the same. The narrative it is creating is a false one in order to allow it to bring in changes to a law passed just six years ago by consensus of Parliament and passed by a PN government which, contrary to the false narrative, was very interested in helping couples have children but not at the cost of sacrificing human lives. The current false narrative is that the law is not good enough and to have a successful IVF rate we need to introduce embryo freezing and therefore, the law needs to be changed.
When examining things called facts and statistics however, this false narrative of the government is not borne out. In Britain, which is the doyen of IVF technology (remember Louise Brown), the success rate of pregnancy per embryo transfer (PETR) using both embryo freezing and fresh eggs is about 33 per cent. In the whole of Europe, the rate is about 30 per cent. In Malta according to official statistics, using both fresh eggs and frozen eggs the success rate is above 30 per cent. Now this does not mean that all implanted eggs will be carried to term. The take home baby rate varies with each country and depends on the expertise of the local centre and other factors like whether they are allowed to do pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PIGD) or not. In many countries, a weakly developing embryo or an embryo with a genetic defect such as Down’s syndrome is not transferred so success rates are obviously higher. In Malta, this is not allowed and all embryos formed have to be transferred to the uterus and none discarded. Therefore, the reality is that our centre, which is only six years old, is having a PETR rate which compares favourably to the European standard. So in effect, it is not true that to increase IVF rates we need to bring in embryo freezing. We can have successful IVF rates using fresh and frozen eggs (oocytes) alone as is obviously the case seen.
The second false narrative being built around the lie is that to have sperm donation or surrogacy carried out by heterosexual or homosexual couples, one needs to bring in embryo freezing! The reality is that just as left over embryos may be used to donate to couples, so can left over frozen eggs. The use of embryo freezing is not required to achieve this. Not that I agree with surrogacy or gamete donation due to the dangers brought about by the commodification and commercialisation of children and modern slavery of both women and children.
The embryo is a human being from the zygote stage onwards in an active state of development. This is proved and determined by science, the science of embryology. Being a human being the embryo ought to be protected by society and individuals. As an innocent human being, it not only has a right to life but an absolute right to life. It is a prima facie right to protect human life at this stage and a wrong to destroy it whatever the reason, even if one had to argue that success rates in IVF might be improved by some rare procedure, though this is obviously not the case.
So what, one may ask, is the reason for the false narrative by the government? First, the government may be out to compromise the principle in the above paragraph, just because once compromised, this principle is jettisoned and then the next step becomes legally feasible, and the next step being abortion itself.
The second reason for the false narrative is that once gamete donation and surrogacy are brought in, the government does not trust couples to donate them to third parties! As long as the main issue remaining for couples, undergoing IVF is destroying frozen eggs or sperm, since there is no moral/ethical problem with doing this; many couples would rather do so than donate these gametes to any third parties. Very few people want their children running around under other people’s legal and social jurisdiction. Therefore, the government fears that since there will not be enough embryos for donation, it needs to create a scenario where extra embryos are left over from IVF procedures, which embryos are frozen and can then be used for donation to third parties. So much so, that the state intends to force parents to give up rights to any frozen embryos which become the wards of the state which state disposes of them as it sees fit. An abomination in itself!
Those in favour of preserving life are not against helping couples have children through IVF procedures or those procedures of assisted insemination, though this is what we are falsely led to believe. It fits in with the false narrative by the state. They are however in favour of doing so in a way that is ethical and respects and protects human life and human dignity such as in the current IVF law. Freezing embryos is against human life and human dignity. A good percentage of embryos are destroyed in the freezing/thawing process and many remain unclaimed by couples and frozen permanently, until the freezer is switched off that is. One cannot ever force couples to take them if they do not want them especially if they have enough children. Consequently, there are around two million leftover embryos frozen around the world. A frozen parallel humanity! For the Labour government however, ethics and the truth it seems, are words which like many required answers, are blowing in the wind!
Dr Asciak is Senior Lecturer II in the Institute of Applied Science at MCAST