‘Don’t get into that argument’, President tells interviewer on signing IVF law

President George Vella suggested he did all he could within his power to influence MPs in the right direction when passing the new IVF law but he would not say how.

In very cryptic replies during an interview with Andrew Azzopardi on 103 Malta’s Heart on Saturday, Vella continued to refuse to say whether he agreed with embryo genetic testing and whether he will sign off on the law himself.

“It’s difficult to publicly say on a station like this what was done before the law was passed – what was discussed and said. This is a very delicate subject and it was necessary for MPs to be informed,” Vella told Azzopardi.

“Maybe these things will come out in the open in the future. But not now.”

Vella first refused to tell reporters whether he was signing off on the amendment to the IVF bill on Thursday, leading some to believe that his repeated refusal to confirm whether he will sign it himself continues to prove that he will not.

The new law, which was passed in parliament last Wednesday, allows doctors to perform genetic tests on embryos and freeze the embryos carrying a severe genetic defect indefinitely.

During the interview, Azzopardi pressed Vella to reveal his position.

“But this shows me you still have a moral doubt about this law because if you hadn’t, you would have no problem saying you’re going to sign it off,” Azzopardi insisted during the interview.

“There are two options, really. Either you sign it or the acting president signs it.”

“Let’s not get into that argument,” Vella kept insisting.

“I will say that the law that was passed by means of a correct democratic process in parliament will be signed off by the presidency. The important thing is that it is signed.”

When Azzopardi hammered on the morality of a law that allows embryo genetic testing, the President said that issues like these are not simply black and white and “there is a spectrum of seriousness” which informs the President on what decisions to take.

“If it were abortion or euthanasia there would have been no argument. I’ve already said it. I would have resigned,” he said, hinting that he perceives them as further towards the extreme, intolerable, end of the spectrum.

“But we’re not at that stage. The same with the cannabis law. That’s why one must consider everything carefully before making a decision.”

Azzopardi tried to clarify, asking Vella whether he meant he can tolerate the IVF and cannabis laws even though he may not agree with them, because they are not as serious as abortion and euthanasia. Vella disagreed and said it was not what he meant, but did not clarify.

Multiple sources who spoke to Times of Malta over the past two weeks said that not only is Vella not comfortable signing off on the IVF bill, but they believe that the recent appointment of professor Frank Bezzina as acting president could be a strategic move that will save Vella the moral burden of signing a law that he opposes while still honouring the Presidency’s constitutional obligation to sign off on a law passed in parliament. That way, the presidency will have signed the law, but not Vella.

When asked about this, Vella said he had nothing to do with Bezzina’s appointment.

“I will tell you in the most solemn way – I had nothing to do with the nomination or appointment of Frank Bezzina as acting president. I learned about it after he was appointed, and then I met him and it was an honour to welcome him into the role,” Vella said, adding that he was in no way saying the Prime Minister should have consulted him, because the appointment of the acting president is, after all, the prime minister’s prerogative.

“When I was informed of the appointment I immediately called Dolores Cristina because I felt the need to thank her for her many years of service to the Republic.”

Cristina had been serving as acting president for nine and a half years.

Vella stressed that any law that passes legitimately in parliament must be signed off by the presidency.

“Contrary to what many people seem to think, the President cannot send an approved law back to parliament and ask MPs to give it another read or reconsider it,” he explained.

“Once it passes from parliament, it must be signed, and this law will be signed.”

Questions were sent by Times of Malta to the President’s Office over the past weeks to ask him whether he agrees with the proposed bill, as a president and as a doctor. The questions have so far remained unanswered.

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