Tempers flare as House committee discusses IVF law amendments

A parliamentary committee debate on the new IVF law became a heated exchange between the government and the opposition on Monday when the issue of preimplantation genetic testing of embryos was raised.

Shadow Health Minister Stephen Spiteri initially verbally proposed an amendment providing that expectant parents, in consultation with medical experts, could choose to undergo preimplantation embryo testing or polar body diagnosis for rare medical conditions listed in the law. .

Health Minister Chris Fearne said the government agreed, as this was already provided for in the protocol attached to the law.

But when the text of the amendment was formally tabled, Fearne said the government disagreed strongly, seeing the wording as an attempt to set Malta back years.

The opposition, he said, had to declare whether they actually agreed with preimplantation genetic testing or not, because the wording of the amendment would prohibit it. The wording of the amendment would prohibit embryo testing if there were alternatives. The amendment also said that there should be no risk for the embryo or the mother, whereas everything, even taking aspirin, involved risks.

Committee chairman Michael Farrugia said that from a medical point of view, this amendment does not make sense.

Spiteri said the opposition was open to further discussions on his amendment. The opposition agreed with embryo testing where the diagnosis warranted it.

Nationalist MP Darren Carabott argued that the issue came down to semantics and that pre-settlement testing would be retained if necessary. Fearne said the principle was in question because this amendment would render the law unenforceable.

Carabott said the opposition amendment would retain preimplantation embryo testing if needed.

After further heated discussions, the discussion was interrupted for consultations by the opposition.

The opposition then withdrew its amendment and replaced it with one to which the government had no objection. The bill was then unanimously approved by the committee.

The medical conditions provided for by law are:

  • Finnish nephrotic syndrome
  • Gangliosidosis
  • Huntington’s disease
  • Joubert syndrome
  • Maple Syrup Urinary Syndrome
  • Nemaline myopathy
  • Spinal muscular atrophy
  • Tay-Sachs disease
  • Walker–Warburg syndrome

All of the listed conditions are serious and acute genetic diseases that in many cases lead to death.

Plans to introduce pre-implantation embryo testing were criticized when they were announced, with opposition saying it would allow couples to choose between those who are born and those who are not.

But last week, Opposition Leader Bernard Grech said the state should offer polar body testing while keeping embryo testing as an option if needed. He noted that polar body diagnosis – genetic analysis of oocytes – is almost as effective as preimplantation genetic testing (PGTM) but does not run the risk of embryos being rejected. It can detect all conditions listed in the law except Huntington’s disease.

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