As a child I was fascinated with caterpillars. I would collect them and carefully place them in a small patch in the garden, which my uncle had planted with lettuce and cabbage so that these caterpillars would grow on it and I would be able to see how they changed into pupae and eventually into butterflies or moths.
Later on, basic science showed me that caterpillars are the larval stage of the order comprising moths and butterflies and that the metamorphosis from caterpillar to pupa to butterfly involves the same creature. Science has no doubt that the caterpillar and the butterfly are in fact one and the same creature.
Likewise, the human embryo develops into a foetus, into an infant, a child and an adult while remaining one and the same human being.
Thus the embryo is human from the moment of conception. His or her identity as human is entirely separate from his/her stage of development. He or she is not a potential human being but a human being with potential.
As such human embryos are not a bunch of cells but are human life – and these embryos have a right to live, and a right to be defended and protected.
I am irked when I hear people, including politicians, journalists and people in the street, speak of “l-embrijuni żejda”. Żejda can be translated as surplus, spare, leftover or even unwanted.
How can we speak of human life in such a way, especially if we attach this argument to the one of equality?
The discrimination is not only a linguistic one. For instance, are we not discriminating between the embryos when we are treating some of them as spare, just in case the first implantation is not successful? Are we not discriminating between embryos when we know that the thawing process results in the death of one in three of them?
Are we not discriminating between embryos when we are choosing to implant some in their own mother’s womb and freeze the others? Are we not discriminating between the embryos when one or more of them is raised by his/her natural parents while the others are given for adoption? Are we not discriminating when we are deliberately separating siblings from one another?
I can understand the position of those couples who yearn to be parents. I even empathise with them because I too yearned to be a mother and to have a family. I understand that IVF may be the only solution in some cases. In fact I was in favour of the original Embryo Protection Act because it was meant to regulate the process of IVF and to protect both the couple and the embryos.
I am aware that this act foresees the freezing of embryos in the very rare circumstances when, for instance, the mother has an accident or is ill, during the incubation period. Nevertheless, I cannot agree to the proposed amendment to this Act.
What I cannot agree with or accept is the deliberate creation of additional embryos, the deliberate discriminating process of choosing who to be implanted in the mother’s womb and who to freeze, the deliberate adoption of some of these embryos and the deliberate separation of siblings.
Admittedly there are couples whose only hope in having a child is IVF. The process of harvesting eggs from a woman is a long and painful one. The first, or even subsequent cycles of IVF, may not be successful.
Yet science offers the very good alternative of oocyte vitrification, that is, the vitrification of the unfertilised eggs. These eggs, unlike the embryo, are indeed a bunch of cells. Thus the process of oocyte vitrification does not pose any ethical dilemmas and scientifically yields the same, if not better, success rates.
So my question is why are we resorting to embryo freezing when there is another, ethically acceptable solution?
My contribution here is certainly not linked to any political opinion or position. It is my position as a free person who has no political allegiances and whose purpose is to defend and protect human life.
It is for this reason that I call on legislators of goodwill, on men and women whose purpose is the well-being of society.
I call on them to stop this amendment and seek better ways and means to assist couples in having a child.
Carmen Zammit is a theology graduate.