Minister Chris Fearne has stated that the proposed amendments to the existing law that regulates IVF and grants protection to embryos “address one of the most powerful forces in human nature – the will to procreate and have a family” (Times of Malta, April 4). It is quite sad and ironic then, that the proposed legislation turns human procreation into a totally unnatural act.
The Embryo Protection Act sought to regulate the use of technology wisely by restricting it to assisting infertile couples in a stable relationship. In doing so, it also protected the embryo’s dignity from the beginning of life and throughout their development into childhood by making sure that they would be born and raised by their natural mother and father.
Not so in this proposed Act. Unashamedly, the proposed Act goes down the rabbit hole where not only does the embryo cease to have the lifelong protection of growing into and being sustained by their natural mother and father but it effectively makes redundant those natural family bonds, replacing them by the cold hand of technological procedure, registers and an (unspecified) “protocol”.
This Act turns the child – our hope, our future, those whom we, as a nation, love and invest in the most – into a commodity. By legalising gamete donation (access to sperm and ova from anonymous persons) and surrogacy (the renting of wombs), it reduces the child to a mere ‘object of desire’. Anyone who decides they want one, can ‘make’ one, by getting a piece from here, another piece from there, and whenever they feel like it, the semi-finished product can be taken out from storage and put into any stranger’s womb.
The child born from such a technocratic procedure would never be able to know who their natural mother is, who their natural father is, whether they have any siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents… maybe not even who carried them in the womb that gave them birth. They will be the ‘child desired’ by a ‘prospective parent or parents’, but nonetheless they will be orphans by design: the product of human ingenuity and adult self-interest.
Gone is the human ideal that it is the love that binds man and woman who give birth to them as mother and father who take responsibility for their child. Now, our potential to father and mother (that is, our biological seeds of sperm and egg) is completely disconnected from our natural responsibility to father and mother the child whom we love into being.
The proposed law is telling us that it is perfectly fine to spread our seed and not care about the children that might or might not be born. Indeed, in its twisted logic, the proposed law dares to present as “generosity” the act of “donating” my seed while not caring about whether it will grow to become my child.
For the parenthood that the new law exalts is that grounded solely in an adult’s desire and choice. If I want a child, I should have the right to make one by whatever means possible – even if it defies all rules of nature that ultimately seek to protect the child’s best interest, and therefore the wellbeing of future generations. But the proposed law is not interested in the child’s best interest or the wellbeing of future generations.
Also, let us not forget that the proposed Act intends by design to offer no guarantee that the child ‘made’ will be born at all. By opening the possibility of embryo freezing – and it is ‘embryo freezing’ not the euphemism “fertilised-egg freezing” intended to further depersonalise the child that has been conceived – a “prospective parent” or “parents” can make more embryos than they will ever “need” or “want”. In fact, freezing gives the option to change one’s mind about how many embryos one will, down the road, “need” or “want”.
And those frozen embryos that five, 10 or more years down the road end up being “not needed” and “unwanted” will simply be left suspended between life and death. Siblings conceived together will be separated by the choice of adults who may once had wanted to be their “prospective parent” or “parents” but not any more. Some siblings will be chosen, others frozen (until another ‘use’ is found?) others may be donated to whomever might generously decide to give them an opportunity to grow. Those conceived at the same time could end up being born of different ‘parents’ five, 10, 15 or maybe more years apart… or (more likely) not at all.
For how many ‘prospective parents’ will be willing to take someone else’s ‘second best’ embryos? Will the State incentivise a ‘prospective parent or parents’ to give the opportunity to a ‘stored’ embryo to be born, over making a fresh batch from scratch with gametes of their choosing – whether their own, or taken out from a register with plenty of sperm and ova to choose from?
If we think we have entered a surreal world of child ‘making’, then we must also acknowledge that it can become the nightmare of a generation who will struggle with their personal identity because we have chosen to give them no family roots and therefore no personal history.
A child born from a frozen state through being ‘donated’ will trace their genealogy to a number in a lab record: to the medical history of an anonymous sperm donor (who might be dead before the child is even conceived), even a possible egg donor, maybe even the person who was willing to rent their womb.
This is to transform the gift of human life into a cold, calculative mindset that fails to appreciate how it is not the ‘putting together’ of a physical body that makes a child, but the long human journey of family connections and generations who, through many acts of self-sacrifice, loved him or her into being who he or she is today.
This new law proposes that we annihilate those family connections; that we make ‘blood’ obsolete. Instead, it gives us technological solutions and self-interested adult choice as the new ‘creators’ of future generations. Is this the kind of future we want for our children?
Nadine Delicata is a moral theologian and lecturer in the Faculty of Theology of the University of Malta.