No symbol of equality – Tonio Fenech

Regrettably, the article ‘IVF and human rights’ (May 17), penned by Silvan Agius and Gabi Calleja as government appointees, was loaded with unfounded assertions presented as human rights or scientific certainties.

The authors choose to completely ignore professionals in the field, psychologists, social workers, medical doctors and scientists who asserted the opposite. Worst of all, they arrogantly assert that “We now [as officials] need to ensure that the amendments proposed go through…”, irrespective of what everyone else thinks – including those whose rights we infringe and whose life we put in danger – and the moral and ethical issues at stake.

Interestingly, they make this statement when the minister piloting the Bill has promised to widen consultation. Are the authors implying the process is a sham, like when the Equal Opportunities Minister Helena Dalli boasted of deceiving the Maltese people when speaking at an international forum?

They claim that “scientific consensus is that embryos should not be considered the same as fully developed human beings”. How wrong and very dangerous are the stereotype pro-abortion arguments. By that same argument we can allow the killing of teenagers by their parents because they too are not fully developed.

Twenty-four local scientists have unequivocally stated the complete opposite; no genuine doctor will make such a statement unless blinded by money. Health Minister Chris Fearne himself admitted in Parliament that the embryo is a human life, though, shortly after, he trivialises that by speaking of only eight cells to justify freezing.

Embryo freezing infringes a fundamental scientific fact: life starts at conception and, as humans, we have an obligation to protect it. A recent survey by MaltaToday indicated that 95.2 per cent of the Maltese population believe so. This would include the vast majority of Labourites too.

Many have spoken, others have remained silent, fearful of being seen as dissenting. There are then those who prefer to believe government rhetoric without questioning.

Agius and Calleja claim their approach is human-rights based and not seeking to trespass the rights of others.

Fact: the proposed amendments do not protect all people, certainly not the frozen children, born from ‘donations’ and being denied their parents, and surrogate mothers who will simply be commodified under the guise of altruism.

In the UN declaration for human rights preamble we read that “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”. Note the word “human”; no limitation on stage of development, this including all members of the human family, even the embryo. So much so that, in the recent debate on the Gender Protection Act, the government gave repeated assurances that the unborn child was still protected under the law as the definition of family includes descendants that also refers to the unborn.

Furthermore, article 2 refers to “Everyone… without distinction of any kind”. Ironically, the second paragraph of the preamble states that “disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind”.

The list is endless: genocides, the holocaust, slavery, trafficking of people and the modern barbaric act of abortion.

The conscience of the Maltese population is outraged against embryo freezing because its justification is founded on the same premise as abortion.

From a secular perspective, if science tells us that life begins at conception, then the embryo is human. If so, then article 3 of the convention applies: “Everyone has the right to life”. How do I enjoy my right to life if you freeze me? Does not freezing breach article 5, which prohibits inhuman or degrading treatment?

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in its preamble clearly affirms the rights of the unborn child when it states that “the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth”. Allow me to repeat “before as well as after birth”.

The UN convention is very clear. Because it is not fully developed, the unborn needs protection. If anyone wants to ignore these rights, as the proposed amendments do, then the rights of children are being trespassed. Another mind-blowing assertion was that there is “no international consensus that there is the right to know the identity of one’s biological parents”. Since when do we need international consensus to tell us that we need air and food to live, that being born of the same parents makes us brothers and sisters and that a child belongs to its biological parents? Conventions are not there to state the obvious.

Children are not a symbol of equality but a gift to love

On the other hand, when it came to education, because past governments abused the education systems to brainwash children, the convention says clearly in article 26.3 that “Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children”. Such is the sense of belonging and the close relationship between the children and their parents.

The fact that a single mother chooses not to declare who the father is does not weaken the rights of children; they would have been violated as a worker’s right to work is violated when s/he is unemployed.

In article 3 1 of this UN convention we read: “In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.”

Can it honestly be said that the best interest of the child is to be frozen, put in suspended mode, with possibly no hope of continuation? Is it the best interest of the child to intentionally be created an orphan through embryo adoption and gamete donation? Is it the best interest of the child to be deprived of its natural parents, be treated like an object that can be given away, ignoring the psychological risks the child is exposed to, including the emotional hardship so evident in many stories of children born out of such donations?

In reality, there is no convention that states that people, whatever their status, have a right to have children. This applies for heterosexual couples, same-sex couples and single men or women. There is clearly no discrimination, not even indirect, as claimed by the authors, because the disadvantage is proportionate and justifiable, that is, there is good reason.

Single persons cannot have children because they need the opposite sex, just like same-sex couples. This is not discrimination, this is nature’s design. Even when a heterosexual couple consent, a child is not guaranteed.

Not having children does not make a person less dignified or less equal to those who have children. Children are not a symbol of equality but a gift to love and love is not about my rights but the child we want to love. That is why the embryo needs to be loved and protected.

The Embryo Protection Act is not only constitutional but in line with the UN convention for the protection of children, putting the best interest of the child at the centre of legislation. The proposed amend­­-ments significantly fall short of a compromise. That is why they remain unacceptable.

Tonio Fenech is a former finance minister.


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