My way or the highway!

This is the attitude of our Prime Minister, who is being pig-headed and seems to have decided a long time ago to introduce certain changes to the IVF law, even though this involved the sacrifice of innocent human lives in the process. We have seen that we can have IVF with fresh and frozen oocytes (eggs), which has given us an ethical edge and success too. Our pregnancy rate per embryo transfer is 30 per cent, similar to the European average, and our take-home baby rate is 21 per cent, slightly below the 25 per cent European average, with about 250 babies born through IVF in six years. Not bad considering that our IVF centre and expertise is 6 years old, that we carry out IVF ethically and preserve human dignity, that we do not do Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis and discard disabled embryos like those with Down’s syndrome and that we protect human life completely.

However the Prime Minister is determined to introduce IVF with embryo freezing in order to have a batch of frozen embryos available for surrogacy, and according to his ill-given advice, to maybe raise the IVF take home baby rate by about two per cent by transferring embryos to a women’s womb at five days of development rather than at three days of development, at the so called blastocyst stage rather than the morula stage. To do this after five days, weaker or non-viable embryos would have likely died, and the new legal amendments will allow for the fertilisation of five oocytes rather than the previous two. The result is that one could possibly end up with more than two embryos at the five-day transfer stage, which means that the best two have to be chosen for transfer to the womb (a eugenic practice) and the others frozen (to be later donated to people who will take them). The resulting cost comes as a gross travesty of human dignity.

To be able to bring in surrogacy and carry out the above-mentioned blastocyst stage transfer, the government is prepared to do away with the life of several (10 to 30 per cent) human beings at an early stage of development both because they die in the thawing or freezing process and because they will inevitably accumulate as they do in other countries, which then presents a problem with what to do with them other than donate them to surrogate mothers as baby commodities. This is unacceptable ethically and unlike the way the government thinks, the end does not justify the means, meaning it is not acceptable to do something wrong to achieve something right (if one can ever call surrogacy right). Not that this principle bothers it or any of the Labour MPs it seems.

In its rush to appear progressive and modern and to have its way, the government and its cronies are saying and doing a lot of silly things such as stating that the early stage embryo is not a baby or a child because it has only eight cells while big daddy has about a trillion cells. What difference may I ask is there whether I sweep away the life of a human being at the eight-cell stage and that at the trillion cell stage or any cell stage in between? The reality is that science shows us clearly that at the stage of fertilisation there is an actively developing human being with its own DNA and active potency to develop till birth and adulthood. These are called the Carnegie stages of embryological development which start at the single cell zygote stage after fertilisation is ended. Anything else is not scientific! Cells at the eight-cell stage are said to be totipotent because they develop into an adult human being if given half the chance, that is, unlike skin or liver cells said to be mature cells or pluripotent stem cells which can never do so. This can only happen after fertilisation when the establishment of the cell with the new singular embryonic DNA has taken place and new original epigenetic patterns start to be laid down. Not only is it a human being, a new unique member of our species, but it is also a human person because it is an individuated, developing human being, after Boethius’ definition of personhood that being an individuated human being of a rational nature. It is the rational nature or essence of the human being that defines him as such rather than the exhibited particulars such as moving, walking or exhibiting self-consciousness as we all exhibit these traits at certain times of our life and not at others.

The fact is Joseph Muscat must be seen to have his way, he has to have freezing and surrogacy brought in to accommodate lobbies, even though strictly speaking there is no need for embryo freezing to be allowed in order to bring about surrogacy, as this can still happen with frozen eggs! All this is done in the name of progress, without any respect for nascent human life. Some progress! I would say a retrograde travesty of human dignity.

I personally would find difficulty reconciling this position with natural law, which commands us to respect and protect other human lives as members of our own species, especially if they are innocent and powerless and endowed with an absolute right to life. I find it difficult to reconcile it with virtue ethics and particularly justice, justice asking us to give everyone his equal share. I find it difficult to reconcile it with the ethics of duty. I find it difficult to reconcile this position with Maltese law which is clear about purposeful killing of innocent life. I find it impossible to reconcile this position with Christian doctrine because of the Divine order not to kill (Do not kill – other human beings), especially St Paul’s clear position in Romans where he states clearly that it is not morally acceptable to do something bad to ever achieve something good. Neither does it tally with any commandment to love one another. Therefore, I leave it to the dictates of these individuals to justify their consciences and think about what to say when they ultimately need to give an account of their actions. I hope they can convince God that the eight-cell embryo is not a human being, but respectfully to them and to God, they sure do not convince me!

Dr Asciak is a Senior Lecturer II in Applied Science at MCAST.

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