Message by Bishop Joseph Galea-Curmi
Over 380 so-called “normal” human embryos have been cryopreserved since the embryo freezing law came into effect in 2018. The fate of these embryos is still uncertain. The recently proposed Bill to introduce pre-implantation genetic testing for monogenic diseases (PGTM) involves the testing of early embryos to detect particular genetic diseases. Embryos found to carry these genetic variants are to be frozen indefinitely.
It will not be an instant death, as is the fate of many embryos in countries where these are simply discarded or used for research. For many of these frozen embryos, possibly for all, it will be a delayed death! Assuming that these “genetically abnormal” embryos will be adopted is absurd and utterly misleading. It is highly unlikely that gene therapy would be developed in the near future to offer them a viable future.
This is something that should concern us deeply, because the dignity of the human being is at stake! At the point of fertilisation, an individual human being has begun, whether this happens naturally or through IVF. This is a scientific and biological fact and not a matter of opinion. A human embryo is more than a “clump of cells”; it is a living, complete organism. It is not “a potential human being”. It is a “human being with potentiality” at a very early stage of its development, and accordingly should be treated with respect and dignity. Only those who bury their head in the sand or who live in a bubble will not admit what is scientifically true – there is a human being at the very initial stages.
The new legislation does not eliminate illness, but it eliminates the ill. It does not solve the problems, but it freezes those who are considered as having specific problems
It is indeed ironic that a society which is committed to equality, protection of the vulnerable, and non-discrimination among its citizens, would introduce quality control of embryos where “some are more equal than others”. This is a eugenic approach, where some human beings are valued more than others because of their genetic conditions!
We should all do our best to reduce illness in children, especially those having genetic conditions that may limit life expectancy and severely impact the quality of life. However, the new legislation does not eliminate illness, but it eliminates the ill. It does not solve the problems, but it freezes those who are considered as having specific problems.
There are ethical and humane approaches to address this thorny issue adequately, as Doctors for Life, as well as a group of experts in clinical sciences, health sciences, wellbeing, embryology, disability studies, social policy, family studies, law and theology have articulated unequivocally. A limited screening for genetic conditions can be done on the female eggs or ova before the formation of an embryo, with a method which offers the possibility of detecting a number of maternal single gene diseases. With this method, parental concerns would be addressed by screening for specific conditions; however this would be done before the embryos are formed, not after. This would truly address the concerns of parents to have a healthy child without embryo selection and freezing.
The Embryo Protection Authority should live up to its name. It must not choose between protection and rejection. Our legislators should never shirk their responsibility to protect vulnerable human beings. May our society never freeze its commitment to cherish and protect life with unfailing care!
✠ Joseph Galea-Curmi
This article was first published on The Sunday Times of Malta