Updated | IVF law reaches last stage in parliament

Doctors will be able to fertilise five eggs from the first cycle in new changes to the IVF law, as the Bill clears committee stage • Opposition reiterates it is against embryo freezing

Changes to the Embryo Protection Act will ensure that lesbians and single women have access to IVF
Changes to the Embryo Protection Act will ensure that lesbians and single women have access to IVF

A restriction placed on doctors to fertilise a maximum of three eggs in the first in-vitro fertilisation cycle has been lifted, as MPs approved an amendment put forward by Health Minister Chris Fearne.

The change means that doctors will be able to fertilise up to five eggs as from the first cycle.

The change was approved by MPs during the last session of the debate, at committee stage, on amendments to the Embryo Protection Act.

The Bill now goes to the Third Reading stage in Parliament, which is the final vote. It will then become law when the President signs on it. Government wants the Bill to become law before summer.

Last April, President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca called for a longer period of reflection on the proposed IVF changes, hinting that she may be uncomfortable with the Bill.

President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca could have a new IVF law to sign before Parliament's summer recess
President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca could have a new IVF law to sign before Parliament's summer recess

The government’s original proposal stated that on the first cycle doctors could only fertilise up to three eggs, going up to five in subsequent cycles. Today's law restricts fertilisation to two eggs, going up to three in exceptional circumstances.

Fearne said there were certain cases where it was evident that achieving viable embryos was problematic and to improve the success rate doctors would have to fertilise more than three eggs as from the first cycle. Doctors will have to consult with the Embryo Protection Authority.

In yesterday’s sitting, Opposition MP Maria Deguara had raised the possibility of giving doctors a bigger leeway when deciding on the number of eggs that should be fertilised because no two women had the same problems.

READ ALSO: An idiot’s guide to how Maltese IVF law will change

While not exactly advocating increasing the egg limit on the first cycle, Deguara’s suggestion was taken up by Fearne, who proposed the amendment to remove the three-egg limit on the first cycle.

Opposition MPs on the committee, Claudio Grech, Robert Cutajar and Stephen Spiteri, objected and voted against.

Claudio Grech has fronted the Nationalist Party's opposition to the proposed changes to the IVF law
Claudio Grech has fronted the Nationalist Party's opposition to the proposed changes to the IVF law

Grech said the Opposition was in principle against embryo freezing as a mainstream practice. His proposal to remove the relevant clause was defeated. In another sitting of the committee, the Opposition tabled amendments to limit IVF to couple with an infertility problem, however these were also defeated.

Embryo freezing is currently only done in exceptional cases when it is not possible to transfer fertilised eggs to the woman, such as in cases of ill-health.

The proposed changes to the law ensure doctors can fertilise up to five eggs but can only transfer a maximum of two embryos to the woman. This means that any other embryos will have to be frozen for use in subsequent cycles. The Nationalist Party is opposed to this.

The government is piloting changes to the IVF law to make the medical practice available to all women, irrespective of sexual orientation and status.

READ ALSO: MaltaToday Survey | Greatest opposition to IVF amendments came from women, survey shows

Health Minister Chris Fearne has piloted the IVF changes
Health Minister Chris Fearne has piloted the IVF changes

The changes include legalising egg and sperm donation and embryo freezing. The adoption of unwanted frozen embryos is also provided for.

Government had withdrawn a reference to altruistic surrogacy, which will be presented in a separate Bill and partly lifted anonymity on gamete and embryo donation.

Donors will be anonymous but children born in this way will have the right to know who the biological parent is when they reach 18.

‘PN did its utmost to reduce law's impact’

In a statement, the PN said the people had not been given the necessary reassurances that the proposed amendments would safeguard human life.

It said the government had not accepted any of the amendments put forward by the Opposition, adding that the government had also changed provisions related to the freezing of embryos. “Rather than limit the risks, it has increased the number of embryos that can be frozen.”

“Today’s changes, contrary to what was requested by civil society, increased the number of embryos that can be frozen each time to three,” it said, adding that the PN had done its utmost to reduce the impact the law would have.

The PN said it had once again shown that it was the part that was the voice of vulnerable people, “like the unborn child”.

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