The parliamentary vote on amendments to the Embryo Protection Act was as clean cut as it could ever be. The government side, as predicted, voted in favour and the Nationalist Opposition, given a free vote, voted unanimously against.
In effect, the Act should now be renamed simply as the Embryo Act. There is no protection to embryos that will now get frozen de rigueur.
Health Minister Chris Fearne described it in this newspaper as a law that would stop the State from barging, uninvited, into the medical consultant’s office. But there are all the reasons for the State to intervene, especially when basic ethical issues are at stake. The role of the State is exactly to establish standards, without which there is but anarchy. And moral anarchy is exactly where this country is heading.
At the 11th hour, lawyer Tonio Azzopardi took the case to court, requesting that the amendments be declared null and without effect. He argued that by providing for the freezing of embryos, the law was a threat to the right to life, as protected by the Constitution. The move came after the Attorney General told the Health Ministry that the amendments cannot be blocked on constitutional grounds.
Incredibly, the government chose to reply to Dr Azzopardi through a press statement, taking exception to one point in particular. It said it disassociated itself completely from Dr Azzopardi where he said that procreation should take place in the context of a relationship between a man and a woman. According to the government, such a statement was discriminatory.
The government seems to believe its own spin.
There is nothing wrong with recognising the reality that a child is the product of a man and a woman. That is nature. The use of IVF or any other method for procreation always involves a man and a woman. Science facilitates what nature does, but does not change it. Through IVF, gay couples, or single adults, can have children but the process is still the same.
When a government speaks of what it calls alternative models of the family that cannot have children, and then wants to extend IVF services to such alternative models, it is effectively turning children into a product, or even a right. That is the core problem with the IVF amendments. The ‘right’ of the individual supersedes the right to life of an embryo. Mr Fearne calls it the “human need to have a family”.
The government counters the criticism, by pro-lifers and hundreds of academics and practitioners, with the argument that it will extend opportunities for childless couples, without discrimination of course.
The reason behind the urgency to approve the amendments may still emerge. The country has been in this situation before when the government put forward a hundred reasons why medical cannabis was suddenly necessary. It turned out to be foreign investment in the sector. We do not know the reason for the urgency with embryo freezing, but it could be similar and would be announced on a Sunday morning by the Prime Minister.
Despite an appeal by the President, the legal amendments involving so many ethical issues have gone through in a hurry and the consultation has been described by the Life Network Foundation as “fake”. The country will have to pay a heavy price for this haste.
This is a Times of Malta print editorial
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