Updated 6.52pm with Fearne reaction below.

Health Minister Chris Fearne welcomed a PN 'u-turn' on IVF testing on Wednesday after Opposition leader Bernard Grech said the state should offer polar body testing while retaining the option of controversial embryo testing.

Speaking in parliament on a bill updating IVF laws, Grech said polar body diagnosis is almost as effective as pre-implantation genetic testing (PGTM) but it does not run the risk of embryos being discarded.

PBD is a form of genetic analysis of oocytes for detection of chromosomal aneuploidies and maternally inherited translocation. 

In contrast PGTM, which is being offered through this bill, scans embryos, with the risk that they would be discarded if defects are found.  

PBD is effective for eight of the nine conditions which the Bill says could be tested by GGTM.

The only exception is that polar body testing does not detect Huntington’s disease carried by men. 

"We are and have always been in favour of helping people have healthy children and we have always been in favour of using the latest medical technology available. PGTM is one of those technologies, despite not being perfect," Grech said.

"But another of those technologies is polar body testing, and the government should allow couples to opt for it."

In his address Grech recalled that it was a Nationalist government which introduced the IVF law 10 years ago. It was not a perfect law, and the current bill was an improvement, he said.

He stressed that the PN was strongly in favour of life and in giving couples every opportunity available to have children.

Grech also insisted that the state should pay for all medicines used by people undergoing IVF cycles. It was not good enough, he insisted, that people were refunded their outlay on medicines. Some people could not afford to pay for medicines up front, and under the current procedure they would effectively be denied treatment, he said.

Let's not have half measures - Fearne

Reacting in the winding-up of the debate, Health Minister Chris Fearne said the Bill already allowed for polar body testing but that was only part of the IVF process and it was only PGTM which covered the whole range of testing

"Let us not have half measures," he said.

He said the PN  was making a U-turn on its previous stance against embryo genetic testing. Indeed, he could not  understand how the Opposition could pass up the opportunity to vote in favour of a readily-available medical procedure which would avoid immeasurable suffering.

"The Opposition likes to speak about morality, but what is indeed immoral is allowing parents to suffer when one can provide them with an effective solution," he said, adding that polar body testing only detected genetic conditions coming from the mother, and it would be unfair to tell IVF couples that the state could only provide genetic testing that was half as effective as it could be.

He also insisted that it is not true that there were a lot of frozen embryos, as claimed last week by the opposition.

He said there are currently 33 pregnancies via the IVF procedure, and 25 of them were from frozen embryos that were planted in the mothers.The rest of the frozen embryos are scheduled to be planted and four of them were being given up for adoption.

Fearne concluded his speech by reading an email that was sent to him by a couple who recently discovered that their six-month old son has gangliosidosis. 

The parents described how life turned into a horrible experience of suffering when their son was diagnosed with the severe disease when he was just three months old.

They insisted that if the country wants to protect embryos, then it should test them for these severe diseases, because allowing them to be born and live a painful life was not protection at all.  

Fearne said he hoped both sides would vote in favour of the bill. 

The bill was then given a second reading, unanimously. 

 

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