Position Paper: "Embryo freezing is scientifically unnecessary and unreasonable"

  • “The prevailing scientific data and the results obtained from local IVF treatment to date demonstrate that the introduction of embryo freezing in Malta is scientifically unnecessary and unreasonable”.

    This is one of the main conclusions of a group of experts in the field of clinical medicine, law, psychology, social policy, family studies, disability studies, philosophy and theology, commissioned by the Maltese Episcopal Conference to prepare a study on the changes that the Government is apparently preparing to introduce to the Embryo Protection Act (2012). The group also concluded that, on the basis of legal, medical and ethical arguments, the Embryo Protection Act should be maintained as is, for it strongly upholds the dignity and integrity of the human embryo. Moreover, the involvement of third parties via gamete donation and surrogacy will create serious dilemmas of parentage while raising serious ethical, legal and psychosocial issues.

    Archbishop Charles J. Scicluna and Bishop Mario Grech welcomed the conclusions of the group which was coordinated by the Faculty of Theology.

    The position paper concludes that the Embryo Protection Act safeguards the legitimate interests of the prospective child and it champions appropriate standards of ethics in fertility treatment. It points out that the current legislation which was passed just three years ago was enacted unanimously by all Parliamentarians after an exhaustive consultative process that involved all stakeholders on a truly national level. Most importantly, this Act was all about protecting the human embryo - a value that is still clearly held in high esteem in Malta - and should be affirmed rather than destroyed.

    The unanimous consensus in Parliament allowed IVF to be offered for the first time within the National Health Service, and the service has now been running for just over one year. Indeed, the first children born to those couples in whom IVF treatment was successful have not long been born. Although the numbers are small and the service still in its infancy, initial results have shown a good success rate especially when taking into account the fact that those couples prioritised for early treatment comprised a particularly high risk group.

    Moreover, the prevailing scientific data and the results obtained from local IVF treatment to date demonstrate that the introduction of embryo freezing in Malta is scientifically unnecessary and unreasonable. The freezing of embryos will not improve the local success rates, which compare well with those of foreign centres. On the contrary, since embryo freezing is indisputably linked to the production of surplus embryos, this process will create a myriad of ethical, moral and psychological dilemmas relating to the disposal of surplus embryos and embryo wastage.

    Furthermore, no evidence is found that the changes to the Embryo Protection Act are required by EU legislation or following recent judgements by the European Court of Human Rights.

    The position paper also expresses the group’s concern that the introduction of pre-implantation genetic testing is unlikely to be restricted to fatal or non-viable conditions. Rather, it is very likely that this will be extended to cover other conditions, where genetic testing is easily available, resulting in embryo selection, rejection and wastage.

    Recommendations include that adoption and fostering need to be encouraged, promoted and facilitated by appropriate legislation, and that humane and pastoral support needs to be offered to those persons who for some reason may be unable to have children of their own.

    The Faculty of Theology at the University, which has been delegated by the Maltese Episcopal Conference to convene an interdisciplinary group to prepare this in-depth study, has already submitted to the Church in Malta, at the bishops’ request,  other position papers on the government’s consultation document concerning the proposal for legislation on organ transplantation, the bill on gender identity, gender expression and sex characteristics,  and the decriminalisation of the vilification of religion and of pornography.

    The experts taking part in the study are: Rev. Professor Emmanuel Agius (Chairperson), Professor Kevin Aquilina, Ms Grace Attard, Professor Simon Attard Montalto, Judge Giovanni Bonello, Mr George G. Buttigieg, Ms Astrid Camilleri, Mr Joe Camilleri, Dr Nadia Delicata, Rev. Professor George Grima, Mr Raymond Galea, Rev. Professor Paul Galea, Mr John Mamo, Rev. Dr Paul Pace, Ms Joseanne Peregin, Dr Clarissa Sammut Scerri, Mr Albert Paul Scerri, Professor Charles Savona-Ventura, Dr Pierre Schembri Wismayer, Dr Sue Vella, Dr Anna Vella, Rev. Dr Ray  Zammit. 

    Click here to download the full version of the Position Paper and the Executive Summary about the Legislation Regulating Assisted Human Procreation.