Change – The Malta Independent

Change does not come about easily. It is the result of hard work, commitment, and courage.  It is also the result of determination and a vision based on a belief that a better reality and a better situation are genuinely possible.

When pushing forward change, one is bound to face a lot of opposition.  Confident in the belief that what is being done is right, the opposition should serve as a catalyst to strengthen the resolve for change.

Parliament started debating a bill proposed by the Government regarding IVF. The main aim of the whole reform is the application of science to make sure that more people get the opportunity of having their own child. 

Ever since 2013, IVF has been a part of the public health service, being offered to those who, sadly, are not able to conceive naturally. However, there are still a lot of opportunities to improve the situation of people who, through the use of science, have the possibility to become parents, and that is precisely why the Government has embarked on this reform.

Some background.  Labour has continuously improved IVF laws so that more individuals can utilize these treatments, as can be seen in the following precis:

2014 – Labour government begins to cover the costs of the IVF process;

2015 ‚Äď Women started¬†receiving¬†IVF treatment free¬†of¬†charge ‚Äď ages between 25 and 42 years;

2018 РThe amendments to the Embryo Protection Act, which came into effect in 2018, widened access to IVF and legalised gamete donation and embryo freezing. That law was last amended in 2018 when it increased the number of eggs that could be fertilised to five, allowing sperm and egg donation and access to IVF for gay and single women;

2022 –¬†Parliament¬†starts¬†debating¬†a new¬†set of legal amendments to¬†IVF last¬†Wednesday, with the changes expected to be the¬†most important¬†piece of legislation introduced since the March general election.

One aspect of the proposed amendments being currently discussed in Parliament is to allow doctors and specialists to screen for possible conditions that would otherwise see people end up in the heartbreaking situation of having children who are born with the certainty of death within a few weeks or months.

Other amendments aim to facilitate the donation of oocytes from other countries, allow the transfer of embryos that have been cryopreserved in foreign countries to be brought to Malta for the IVF treatment to be carried out here, and remove affinity as an obstacle for the donation of gametes. Moreover, the proposed amendments also seek to raise the age limit for IVF to 45 years, increase the number of cycles for free, and offer other services to those who already have a first child.

The latter would see IVF treatments being accessible for those who have already used them in the past and who wish to have a second child.

Between 2013 and 2021, 404 babies were born via IVF and an additional 14 with the IUI process. The proposed amendments to the IVF law would translate into a fairer society that gives everyone an equal chance at having their own child.  

Amending the IVF law was among the main proposals of the Labour Party’s last general election, pledging to update the law regulating in vitro fertilisation within the first 100 days of government. This Government remained focused on carrying out these reforms with the aim of giving everyone in the country the same chance, reducing suffering, and giving birth to new hope. This clearly demonstrates the Labour Party’s commitment to turning those promises into concrete action.

IVF treatment has been available as part of the national health service since November 2013. The amendments being pushed by the governing Labour Party would extend the service to those who suffered from miscarriages, who ended unsuccessful IVF cycles, and those with a history of medical complications. 

The Nationalist Party said that it had backed the Government when it moved forward amendments to the law governing IVF back in 2018.  That is a complete lie. The Opposition did not vote in favour of the amendments tabled by the Government, and this time round, it is completely opposed to an important component of the whole reform.

A number of speakers, over time, from the side of the Nationalist Party have shown gross insensitivity to this issue.  I will not repeat what Bernard Grech himself said about IVF during the electoral campaign, and, as a matter of fact, many of the people from the PN side who voted against the 2018 amendments are still in Parliament today.

One of the most important aspects of the bill that is being proposed is that doctors will be allowed to perform genetic tests on IVF embryos before they are planted into the womb. This will happen so that our specialist would be able to look for certain rare genetic conditions that the fetus might carry and develop later in life. The testing would allow parents to know of complications their child could have if they went ahead with the embryo implantation with a genetic condition, and they would be able to choose not to have that embryo implanted. The testing will only be available for monogenic disorders, single-gene variations like Huntington’s disease and Finnish Nephrotic Syndrome, and only when prospective parents have a history of such conditions. 

The Opposition is shooting down this crucial part of the reform.  I agree completely with what is being proposed as it is humane and the right thing to do.

I am proud to be standing on the side of Parliament, which is pushing forward for change.

One final point needs to be driven home.  Some people say that there is absolutely no difference between the two parties.  It is absolutely incorrect to say that.  The Labour Party is the only reformist force in Malta.  It is the Labour Party which, when push comes to shove, pushes forward the changes which makes Malta a more modern and equal society.