‘I would have def­i­nitely voted against the Em­bryo Pro­tec­tion Bill’

The Malta Independent on Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - Photo: James Caru­ana

On the sub­ject of the amend­ments to the 2012 law on em­bryo pro­tec­tion, for­mer For­eign Min­is­ter and Labour deputy leader Ge­orge Vella said that he would have “def­i­nitely” voted against the bill, had he still been a Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment.

While he had been one of the pro­mot­ers of the orig­i­nal law, say­ing it was in the best in­ter­ests of the em­bryo, now that the con­cepts of sur­ro­gacy and ga­mete do­na­tion are be­ing in­tro­duced Vella is to­tally against the amend­ments. He be­lieves that, since the cur­rent law al­lows for ova vit­ri­fi­ca­tion (freez­ing) and adop­tion for same-sex cou­ples, this “does away with all the le­gal and moral con­sid­er­a­tions” that are be­ing in­tro­duced through the cur­rent bill. He be­lieves that in­fer­tile cou­ples should be given all the tools pos­si­ble but within eth­i­cal and moral con­sid­er­a­tions.

He orig­i­nally an­nounced his dis­agree­ment with the Em­bryo Pro­tec­tion Bill by way of a tweet in which he branded it “a com­plete trav­esty of ethics, moral­ity and hu­man dig­nity, al­legedly to re­move ‘dis­crim­i­na­tion’ im­posed by na­ture it­self.”

He said this tweet had been a “knee-jerk re­ac­tion” to what he read in the bill. When asked if he had spo­ken to the Prime Min­is­ter be­fore mak­ing that an­nounce­ment, he said: “Why should I?” – ex­plain­ing that he is no longer in pol­i­tics and as such re­fuses to join any par­tic­u­lar group with re­gard to this is­sue.

At the mo­ment, he be­lieves that while this bill ob­jec­ti­fies the em­bryo, there is a com­mit­ment from both the Prime Min­is­ter and the Op­po­si­tion against abor­tion. It would, he says, be po­lit­i­cal mad­ness to give the im­pres­sion that one is mov­ing in that di­rec­tion. He does, how­ever, cau­tion that pro-choice groups are quite pow­er­ful and can­not be ig­nored, and that it is a chal­lenge for who­ever is in gov­ern­ment to strike a bal­ance between what is avail­able and what the peo­ple should have.

The Gov­ern­ment should in­vest and ed­u­cate to avoid the high rates of in­fer­til­ity in Malta, Vella sug­gested. Men­tion­ing poly­cys­tic ovaries and en­dometrio­sis as preva­lent dis­eases in Malta which may cause in­fer­til­ity, he be­lieves that more money should be in­vested in or­der to re­duce the num­ber of peo­ple who have to opt for IVF. Lifestyle is also a ma­jor is­sue in Malta when it comes to in­fer­til­ity, he pointed out.

The be­gin­ning of life

For Vella, life be­gins at con­cep­tion be­cause this trig­gers the de­vel­op­ment in a cell which, un­der the right cir­cum­stances, would lead to hu­man life. For him, it is the be­gin­ning of a life which is sep­a­rate and in­de­pen­dent from its par­ents and he be­lieves that this is the gen­eral view, even from the sci­en­tific com­mu­nity.

When asked if an em­bryo is just a few cells, he said that all of us started from one cell pen­e­trated by a sperm. The fact is and re­mains that it is that par­tic­u­lar mo­ment when there is fer­til­i­sa­tion that the whole process of de­vel­op­ment is be­gun. The process of de­vel­op­ment can be stopped at any time, but even a born baby is not self-suf­fi­cient.

Em­bryo freez­ing

Vella as­serts his dis­agree­ment with em­bryo freez­ing, say­ing that the bill is called the ‘Em­bryo Pro­tec­tion Act’ but em­bryo freez­ing is def­i­nitely not in the best in­ter­ests of the em­bryo.

As a med­i­cal doc­tor, he says he has to ad­mit that the re­sults from thawed ova are far less favourable than those achieved by freez­ing an em­bryo, but it does away with all the le­gal and eth­i­cal prob­lems. When asked how he would jus­tify this to an in­fer­tile cou­ple, he said that he would try to make the cou­ple un­der­stand that these are not capri­cious de­ci­sions, that they are de­ci­sions that need to be taken with a formed con­science with eth­i­cal and moral stan­dards. He again in­sists that with em­bryo freez­ing we are only dis­cussing the in­ter­ests of the in­fer­tile cou­ple and for­get­ting the in­ter­ests of the em­bryo.

De­scrib­ing the phrase ‘just a few cells’, when re­fer­ring to the em­bryo, as deroga­tory, Vella in­sists that ev­ery­one has their own opin­ion and he re­spects all de­ci­sions made by oth­ers. He also makes it clear that we have to steer between the sci­en­tific and the emo­tional when con­sid­er­ing such sub­jects, as when one is emo­tional it can lead to cer­tain un­eth­i­cal con­cepts such as sur­ro­gacy.

Throw­ing em­bryos away is not con­sis­tent with a per­son com­ing from a med­i­cal pro­fes­sion due to the oath a doc­tor has to take

Em­bryo adop­tion and sur­ro­gacy

When some­one be­comes a doc­tor, he says, that per­son has to take an oath to pre­serve life un­der what­ever con­di­tions. He be­lieves that em­bryo adop­tion is be­ing in­tro­duced as “an ex­cuse” for all the frozen em­bryos that will be avail­able. The only other op­tion is to ei­ther throw the em­bryos away or send them for re­search. He says that throw­ing em­bryos away is not con­sis­tent with a per­son com­ing from a med­i­cal pro­fes­sion due to the oath a doc­tor has to take.

He has is­sues with em­bryo freez­ing due to the fact that if the em­bryo is not made use of by the prospec­tive par­ents, it be­comes the prop­erty of the state. It is then up to the state to de­cide what hap­pens to this em­bryo and to whom to al­lot it. Dr Vella be­lieves that this ob­jec­ti­fies the em­bryo, mak­ing it an ob­ject to be traded.

In 2015, Joseph Mus­cat spoke about this bill but he only men­tioned gay fe­male cou­ples says Dr Vella. The rea­son for this was be­cause with male same-sex cou­ples one has to in­tro­duce the con­cept of sur­ro­gacy. He be­lieves that the Gov­ern­ment is get­ting into dif­fi­cult ter­rain, men­tion­ing that sur­ro­gacy is banned through­out Europe ex­cept in the UK. He says that the prob­lem is that the Gov­ern­ment is try­ing to soften hearts and make it seem, with al­tru­is­tic sur­ro­gacy, that we are be­ing char­i­ta­ble. But ev­ery­body knows what hap­pens: it be­comes com­mer­cialised, it is com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion and it is only in the in­ter­ests of the even­tual cou­ple and not of the em­bryo it­self.

Same-sex cou­ples and sin­gle par­ents

Al­low­ing same-sex cou­ples to be able to adopt an ovum or sperm and even mak­ing use of sur­ro­gacy is “not na­ture” as­serts Dr Vella. He says: “This is try­ing to please ev­ery­one and I’m hop­ing good sense will pre­vail.”

He voted in favour of civil union and al­low­ing same-sex cou­ples to adopt be­cause he says he has “full fate in the con­trol­ling au­thor­ity to see what is in the best in­ter­ests of the child. If that child is be­ing loved, and if that child is go­ing to be given a good en­vi­ron­ment then so be it”. He says he is in favour of same-sex cou­ples and has full re­spect for them – even to them be­ing given civil rights such as adop­tion. How­ever, he con­tin­ues by say­ing he is against gay mar­riage as “with [gay] mar­riage I could sense what was com­ing…” Dr. Vella ex­plains that with gay mar­riage, equal­ity would come into play and the right for a het­ero­sex­ual cou­ple to have chil­dren would be­come the same right for a same-sex cou­ple. This would in­tro­duce the con­cepts of ga­mete do­na­tion and sur­ro­gacy. “These peo­ple should be re­garded as equal but equal does not mean the same”, he clar­i­fies.

He also be­lieves that al­low­ing sin­gle par­ents to be­come par­ents through ga­mete do­na­tion or em- bryo do­na­tion would cre­ate more so­cial prob­lems. Dr. Vella be­lieves that it is in the best in­ter­ests of the child if they are raised by two par­ents, even if they are same-sex. He ex­plains that it is im­por­tant for the child’s psy­chol­ogy to be reared by two dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters.

The morn­ing-af­ter pill

Vella clearly dis­agrees with the morn­ing-af­ter pill, say­ing that dur­ing his time in Par­lia­ment he ob­jected to its in­tro­duc­tion. How­ever, he says that MPs were not given the chance to vote on the sub­ject be­cause it was in­tro­duced on the strength of it be­ing avail­able in the Euro­pean Union. “It didn’t go in by the door but by the win­dow,” he said, re­fer­ring to how the pill was made avail­able in Malta, adding that try­ing to avoid the im­plan­ta­tion of an al­ready fer­tilised egg was al­ready wrong.

GE­ORGE VELLA about his thoughts on the new IVF law. While Vella, a med­i­cal doc­tor, had been one of the main pro­mot­ers of the 2012 law, he says the new amend­ments un­der dis­cus­sion in Par­lia­ment – which in­clude the con­cepts of sur­ro­gacy and ga­mete do­na­tion – have ren­dered it un­palat­able

Re­bekah Cilia speaks to vet­eran Labour politi­cian and Min­is­ter

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