Left: Archbishop Charles Scicluna and Gozo bishop Mario Grech at the protest (Photo: Newsbook); Right: An ’embryo freezer’ left outside Parliament
Thousands of people took to the streets of Valletta yesterday afternoon in protest against a proposed IVF law that will legalise embryo freezing, gamete donation and altruistic surrogacy.
The protestors marched with placards such as ‘Embryos are one of us’, ‘I am not an object’ and ‘Why shouldn’t I have the right to know my mother?’, and a large sign with the words ‘We have abandoned our conscience in the name of equality’ was hung above Republic Street. In an act of resistance against the Bill, protestors even left an entire freezer outside Parliament complete with warnings against embryo freezing.
Archbishop Charles Scicluna, his predecessor Paul Cremona and Gozo bishop Mario Grech were all present at the protest. The Church had encouraged people to attend the demonstration, warning that the Bill will place frozen embryos in peril and deny embryos implanted into another woman’s womb the right to know their biological father and mother.
Several Nationalist politicians were also present, including Opposition leader Adrian Delia and his two predecessors Simon Busuttil and Lawrence Gonzi.
“The absolute majority in Malta is in favour of life and the government is proposing a Bill that doesn’t protect life, which I will vote against out of conscience,” Delia said. “The so-called government that listens must listen to the people who took to the streets today in their thousands.”
The protest was addressed by Life Network chairperson Miriam Sciberras and paediatrician Joseph Mizzi, as well as by Joanna Rose – a sperm donor baby and now activist against anonymous gamete donation.
What is the Bill actually proposing?
As it stands, couples undergoing IVF treatment can only fertilise two eggs (except in special circumstances where they can fertilise three eggs) and implant both of them to the womb – a process with an average success rate of under 30%. In an attempt to increase the success rate, the government is proposing to allow couples to fertilise up to five eggs. Women will still only be allowed to transfer a maximum of two fertilised eggs to the womb per cycle, but they will now have embryos frozen “in reserve” if their first attempt at pregnancy fails – as it often does.
The entire controversy revolves around the fate of the remaining frozen embryos if the woman gets pregnant and has no more need for them. The government’s proposal will grant couples certificates to freeze these embryos, which they can renew every five years until the woman turns 43. If she turns 43 and the frozen embryos are still unused, the state will automatically seize control of these embryos and will put them up for “adoption” into another woman’s womb. Once the adoption takes place, the birth parents will lose all their rights and obligations on their embryos.
The Bill will also allow single women and lesbian couples to access IVF, herald in both anonymous and non-anonymous sperm and egg donation and legalise altruistic surrogacy in specific cases designated by the Health Minister. Commercial surrogacy will remain illegal, as will embryo research and preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD).