VALLETTA, Malta, July 31, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Maltese Bishops have weighed-in heavily on the in vitro fertilization (IVF) debate that has engulfed the small nominally Catholic country. The bishops strategically released a pastoral letter 24 hours prior to the release of the country’s first proposed law that would regulate, rather than ban, the country’s IVF-based reproductive business that has been operating for over two decades with no restrictions.
The proposed Embryo Protection Act 2012 is considered to be a very restrictive law banning cloning, freezing, experimentation, and willful destruction of embryos. However, the bishops have come out condemning all forms of IVF as a “morally wrong”, anti-personal, and inhuman solution to infertility and have suggested that laws be crafted which treat infertility using natural solutions that at the same time “respect the dignity of the human person and of the unity of marriage”.
“The statement the bishops issued last week was opportune and ought to be considered seriously by everyone involved,” said Paul Vincenti, president and founder of Gift of Life Foundation in Malta to LifeSiteNews.
Calling it their “duty as spiritual shepherd” to guide married couples, scientists, and politicians so that they may “form their consciences rightly on a subject such as human life”, Archbishop of Malta Paul Cremona and Bishop of Gozo Mario Grech reiterated three “fundamental values” in Church teaching that they say must be adhered to during fertility treatment for it to be moral.
The “value of life and the physical integrity of every person” must be “protected from the very moment of conception until the moment of natural death of the human person”. The bishops point out that “any form of discrimination” with respect to different stages of life “cannot be justified and must be upheld like any other form of discrimination”.
Furthermore, the value of a married couple’s “conjugal unity and fidelity” — whereby a “married man and woman, through their reciprocal gift of love, bring one another to perfection” — must be protected from “rupture” which is suffered when a “third party” is introduced for the sake of “artificial fertilization”.
Finally, the “value of human sexuality in marriage” must be protected whereby the “conception of a human person” is the fruit of the “mutual self-giving love of the married couple”.
The bishops conclude that “every technical method which replaces the personal conjugal act fails to respect the dignity of the human person and of the unity of marriage and so this is not acceptable.”
They point out that technical methods to aid procreation are permissible when they “aid the personal conjugal act to achieve its aim, that is to conceive human life,” such as in the case of NaPro Technology developed by Dr. Thomas W. Hilgers.
“A law which does not safe-guard these values is morally wrong” they wrote.
The act deems it unlawful with a fine up to $18,000 USD for anyone who “artificially fertilizes any egg cell for any purpose other than that of bringing about the pregnancy of the woman from whom the cell originated”. Only two eggs cells can be legally fertilized from one woman within one “treatment cycle”. The law forbids discarding embryos for “eugenic purposes”. Surrogate mothers are also not permitted.
Furthermore, the law would prohibit “all forms” of embryo preservation, including cryopreservation where ‘leftover’ embryos after a cycle of in vitro fertilization are frozen and stored at temperatures as low as −196 °C or −321 °F.
The proposed law would also prohibit sex-selective artificial fertilization, cloning, tampering with the genetic information of a human germ line cell, chimerae and hybrids, experimentation on human embryos, and willful destruction of embryos.
Regarding parenthood, the law states that “any prospective parent”, either “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” shall have “access to medically assisted procreation procedures”. The law would therefore exclude people in same-sex relationships from procuring children by means of reproductive technology while at the same time allowing an unmarried man and woman to undergo the procedure.
The law also makes it clear that doctors will be “under no obligation” to participate in assisted procreation procedures “when such professional considers such participation objectionable as a matter of conscience and declares his objection beforehand”.
Maltese doctors who currently offer IVF to their patients as a solution to infertility claim that the new regulations will hamper business, some suggesting that they will have to close shop if the proposed regulations become law.
“Sur Ministru, you are telling us literally to shut down,” wrote Pawlu Sultana, head of medical services at St James Hospital, in a comment posted on Facebook as reported by MaltaToday.
Josie Muscat, owner of St James Hospital, told MaltaToday that the government is “trying to please everybody. Except patients” adding that it will be difficult for him to keep his embryologists employed.
But Malta’s bishops have pointed out that “everybody” includes humans at their “embryonic stage” and that these little ones must be afforded rights and protections by civil law.
“Human life should be safe-guarded and its integrity promoted from the very moment of conception. This obligation stems from the dignity of the human person which is at the foundation of all human rights.”
The Embryo Protection Act will be open for public consultation until September 14. The proposed act must be approved by a parliamentary majority before it becomes law.