Lesbian couples and infertile women are currently not catered for by Malta’s IVF law, meaning they have to travel abroad if they want to give birth to their own children.
Yet the Maltese government has now given them some relief, by including people who go abroad for gamete donation treatment in a new law which allows couples undergoing IVF to avail themselves of 100 hours of vacation leave.
This family-friendly legal notice was actually introduced on 30th May, but largely escaped media attention as the date was three days before the general election. The legal notice grants 60 hours of paid leave to the employee undergoing the treatment and a further 40 hours to the other prospective parent. The leave can be taken all at once or split over different time periods depending on the nature of the treatment, and is applicable to employees in the public and private sector alike.
Sperm donation and egg donation are illegal in Malta
The inclusion of people seeking sperm and egg donation abroad provides the clearest sign yet that the government recognises the restrictiveness of Malta’ current IVF law.
Introduced in 2013 during the dying days of the last PN administration, the Embryo Protection Act allows couples with fertility problems to undergoing in-vitro fertilisation treatment. Essentially, this involves surgically removing an egg from a woman’s ovaries, fertilising it in a Petri dish with her husband’s sperm and implanting the resultant embryo into the woman’s womb.
Yet the law explicitly only caters for heterosexual couples who are either married or in a stable relationship. Indeed, it defines the term ‘prospective parent’ as “either of two persons of the opposite sex who are united in marriage, or who have attained the age of majority and are in a stable relationship with each other”.
Gamete donation currently carries a €23,000 fine or 5-year jail term
The outlawing of sperm and egg donation, with a penalty of €23,000 or a five-year jail term, also excludes infertile couples and single mothers from IVF treatment.
Since the election, the government has forged ahead with plans to modernise Malta’s IVF legislation. At the end of June, health minister Chris Fearne said an updated IVF law which will eliminate discrimination towards same-sex couples is in the pipeline, without giving much detail of what it will entail. The government has remained coy over whether it plans to legalise surrogacy, the only method which allows gay couples to have their own children.
Joseph Muscat said he discussed IVF in his first meeting with Adrian Delia
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has said IVF legislation was one of the topics on the agenda during a recent meeting with the PN’s new leader Adrian Delia.
“It is obvious the two of us disagree on certain points of principle…such as how people should conceive, some aspects of civil liberties and IVF,” Muscat told the press. “It would be good to have an open and vibrant discussion on such issues, with open channels between government and opposition.”
The Prime Minister pledged not to give his MPs a free vote on the upcoming IVF legislation, noting they had all signed up to it when they agreed to contest the election as Labour candidates.
“Labour’s manifesto included pledges to modernise the IVF law, and if any MP had a problem of morality or conscience about it, they should have spoken out before and refused to contest the election,” he said.