A national conference, themed Quality Life For The Unborn Child, was held on October 13. It was organised by the Movement for the Rights, Protection and Development of the Unborn Child with the cooperation of the Ministry of Justice, Public Dialogue and the Family. The movement is made up of 45 entities including the two major political parties.
The main themes of the conference were, firstly, the protection and health of the baby about to be born and, secondly, the protection of the parents and their unborn child at their place of work. These two themes are of utmost importance and it was a pity that they had to be condensed into one hour and 15 minutes of discussion and, as such, I will concentrate on the legal issues at stake.
Opening the conference, Minister Chris Said announced that a joint committee between his ministry and the movement will be set up so that the ideas discussed during the conference will be implemented nationwide. He also spoke about the IVF Bill, as it is more commonly known, the draft national children’s policy and the Guardianship Bill.
The minister said the IVF Bill is not simply a draft law regulating IVF only but was mainly about the protection and dignity of the human embryo by prohibiting cloning and admixing of a human embryo with an animal embryo and not just regulating in vitro fertilisation.
He added that an important and final step in the draft national children’s policy is set to take place by the end of this year when the policy becomes a national one (that is, it will no longer be in its draft stage) and which will eventually be adopted by all departments and entities.
He also emphasised that a primary aim of the Guardianship Bill is to gradually do away with the ancient institutions of the interdiction and incapacitation to cases that do not need such.
The legal aspects mainly centred on maternity issues during the second half of the conference while the first half focused on the rights associated with the unborn.
The first panel consisted of Simon Attard Montalto, chief paediatrician at Mater Dei Hospital, Louise Bugeja, coordinator at the Parent Craft Unit at Mater Dei, Ruth Farrugia, senior lecturer at the Faculty of Law at the University of Malta, Marianne Massa, health promotion specialist and Anna Maria Vella, senior medical officer at the Foundation for Social Welfare Services.
Farrugia noted that we cannot just speak about obligations but also about rights.
She pointed out that an unborn child can be a beneficiary of a foundation and can also be instituted as an heir. She added that the rights of the unborn child are in parallel with the rights of the would-be mother and a solution needs to be found for both rights to co-exist harmoniously. What is key to the unborn child is not simply the life but the quality life, she said.
What is meant by quality life?
Quality of life refers to the total well-being of the person involved and this is tied with the discussion that ensued by the second panel consisting of Paul Pace, Simon Busuttil, Carmelo Abela, David Saliba and Damian Spiteri.
The second panel discussed the protection of the pregnant woman and the unborn at the place of work. Quality life is assured from the time before the child is born because a pregnant woman cannot attend work if that work is hazardous to her health or her unborn child’s health. In fact, she is entitled to special maternity leave because of that.
Busuttil referred to instances where, while on probation, pregnant women might be afraid to challenge their employer fearing they might be made redundant with impunity due to the fact they would still be on probation.
This obviously creates eventual distress on the pregnant women and, consequently, might have an impact on the quality life of the unborn.
The right to quality life is not something reserved to the unborn but is a term applicable to everyone. It is commonly used in medical ethics, where it is defined as quality-adjusted life years, which is an attempt to assess the worthiness of the different treatments as opposed to the quality of life expected.
The outcome of the conference was that the right to life is not simply that but it is also a right to a quality life.
Dr Mangion is a lawyer and a published author with a special interest in family and child law.