"Foetus" should be included in the definition of ‘minor’ within the Child Protection Act, according to the Opposition.

Speaking in Parliament during a discussion concerning financial estimates of the Embryo Protection Authority for this year, Nationalist Party MP Claudio Grech said the government had an opportunity to reveal its true intentions.

The Child Protection Act would soon start being discussed and the inclusion of "foetus" (tarbija fil-ġuf) in the definition would send a strong signal that the unborn deserved protection as human beings.

The Child Protection Act has been promised since 2014. Social workers and foster carers are calling for its immediate enactment.

He also called for the strengthening of social services, whether provided by NGOs or the government, so that pregnant women who were facing difficult times and considering abortion, were supported to pull through.

Mr Grech meanwhile urged for a balance between the right to life, which he said was supreme, and supporting prospective parents with infertility issues.

He referred to the Embryo Protection Act as introduced in 2012, which he said had reached an ethical balance between the needs of prospective parents and the treatment of embryos.

Hundreds had been born through that law. However, he questioned how while the birth rate had remained the same, there had been a drop of 20 per cent in IVF procedures at public and private clinics.

Also addressing Parliament, PN MP Claudette Buttigieg called for more sensitivity towards couples who did not want to have children and those who could not have children.

There were some who were not aware that their relatives had conceived through IVF because of the stigma, she said, calling for more psychological support for couples going through the process. 

'All government members are against abortion'

Earlier, Labour Party MP Etienne Grech said that all government members were against abortion.

Dr Grech was providing figures about IVF treatment throughout 2018, which he said was most often the last hope for couples suffering infertility.

In all, there were 246 cycles, 56 of which resulted in pregnancies (a 23 per cent success rate).

He added that research on embryos, genetic modification and surrogacy were still illegal, however, there was room for discussion about the prospective legislation of surrogacy. 

Discussion needed about surrogacy to support couples who cannot benefit from IVF procedures

'Need of debate about surrogacy'

PL MP Rosianne Cutajar meanwhile called for a discussion about the introduction of surrogacy, in order to support couples who could not benefit from IVF procedures.

“The reality is that there are still couples who are finding it difficult to become parents despite the amendments.

“This means that the government still hasn’t done justice to all, and there are couples who go abroad to undergo treatment that is not available in Malta,” she said.

The figures were encouraging but they were not enough. Infertility was a condition, and just like any other condition, people should receive treatment for it, Ms Cutajar noted.

The Labour MP said she looked forward to a mature discussion about amendments that would allow preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD is a procedure used prior to implantation to help identify genetic defects within embryos) and surrogacy).

Every year for the past few years there have been more than 200 IVF cycles, Health Minister Chris Fearne said in Parliament.

Data was only available from 2013 onwards, when the authority was set up. A total of 309 babies have been born since.

A total of 170 of these were born since 2015, when the service started being provided for free at Mater Dei Hospital.

Meanwhile, following last year’s amendments, 61 couples who had used up all cycles offered by the government (gone through three unsuccessful ones) were now entitled to another cycle.

The minister added that two couples who had had their embryos frozen abroad had brought them over to Malta, while another 11 couples had had their embryos frozen in Malta.

“All these couples have expressed their wish to use them, contrary to the initial fear that we will have large numbers of embryos that will remain frozen forever.”

There are also a small number of lesbian couples who are on the waiting list for IVF treatment.

These couples need gamete donation, and discussions with experts abroad are under way to see how gamete can be made available.