Updated 1.15pm with Archbishop's homily

The Commission for the Rights of Persons with Disability has backed government plans to allow testing of IVF embryos for nine rare genetic conditions before implantation in the womb.

It said people should have a right to choose not to pass on their genetic disorders to their children. 

The commission issued the statement a day after parliament began to debate the introduction of genetic testing of embryos as part of a wider law regulating IVF.

Supporting the move, it observed that in terms of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Malta is obliged to provide health services including early identification and intervention as appropriate, and services designed to minimize and prevent further disabilities.

It said it was "only natural that pre-implantation genetic testing should be made available to those who do not want to pass on genetic disorders to their offspring".

Health Minister Chris Fearne on Thursday introduced a protocol that would allow for testing of nine named disorders but would also give leeway for the Embryo Protection Authority to add to the list in the future. 

The CRPD said that in view of the fact that the protocol in the text of the proposed Maltese law included a specific list of conditions where the quality of life was severely impacted, reference to genetic counselling services (before, during and after the testing and procedure), and the choice of the parent/s to decide whether to do the test and proceed with the implantation of a diagnosed embryo, it supported the proposed legislation.

"The voice of people who know that they might pass on a genetic disorder, should they decide to procreate, has been conspicuously missing in the past few weeks," it said.

"Unfortunately, public discourse was effectively hijacked by those whose only connection with the subject matter is purely academic, professional or moral."  

Archbishop: life starts from conception and has to be respected

Archbishop Charles Scicluna, meanwhile, hit out against the embryo testing on Thursday.

He stressed during his daily Mass that life begins at conception and it needs to be respected, even at that stage, whatever the circumstances. Referring to pre-genetic testing, he asked what would become of the embryos found to be potentially sick. Would they be thrown away?

And if not, but one in five still die during the test, was this right?

Did it make sense to kill one in five while checking if they were healthy?“Let us be careful and not fool around with God on the issue of life and let us be clear in what we say, as I hope I am,” the archbishop said.  

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