Sociologist, activist, local councillor, drummer from Malta

Friday, August 17, 2012

The real politics of IVF

Michael Briguglio

The Times, August 17th, 2012

The IVF issue is quickly developing into one that characterises Malta’s political crossroads.

When, in the mid-1990s, Anthony Giddens – one of the most famous sociologists in the world – wrote of “a tangled web of tradition and modernity” in a book on Maltese society, he hit the nail on the head.

In the meantime, various changes took place, such as Malta’s EU accession and the introduction of divorce, which have helped tilt Malta towards the side of modernity.
Yet, social change remains uneven and unwritten in advance, characterised by various factors, not least being political antagonisms.

The IVF issue is a clear example of political antagonism. It is characterised by those who are in favour of the introduction of this civil right and those who are against. Yet, the Yes and No camps are, in turn, characterised by different ideological positions and discourses.

For example, the Nationalist government is proposing the introduction of this right only for married couples and heterosexual couples in a stable relationship while Alternattiva Demokratika – the Green party believes that there should no be discrimination on any grounds for access to IVF.

Labour’s favourable position is, like always, characterised by vague discourse when it comes to the specifics. On the other hand, within the Catholic Church, opposition ranges from the moderate to what Fr Joe Borg (The Sunday Times, August 12) has described as the “militant nostalgic”.

In themselves, these different ideological positions show there is no such thing as one monolithic truth in the politics of IVF. Like all other issues, the ‘natural’ always interplays with the ‘social’, which, in turn, includes the political.

AD’s position on IVF is clear. As stated above, we believe there should not be discrimination on any grounds (family status, sexual identity, and so on) for access to IVF and that applicants should be offered professional counselling.

The basic philosophy behind our position is that free IVF treatment offered by the public health service should facilitate matters for prospective parents who are infertile. Our position is, therefore, pro-family, as it is for the enabling of prospective infertile parents to have children, without creating ideological barriers (as proposed by the PN) which discriminate between different family forms.

AD believes that different types of families should be recognised in Maltese society in a social policy context of rights and responsibilities that promotes equality.

For example, the pro-family instituion of marriage should be extended to same-sex couples. The state should also ensure that parents, irrespective of family form, should have rights and responsibilities with respect to children.

When it comes to technical matters concerning IVF, it is important to have rules to safeguard the health of the mother and avoid dangerous multiple pregnancies.

Preventing the creation of unnecessary fertilised eggs is one thing but making the procedure too restrictive and depicting the storage of the minimum number of fertilised cells for the procedure to be viable as ‘immoral’ or ‘bad’ is another.
What is hardly ever mentioned is that the success rate of IVF closely follows that of conception by natural means – science is not replacing nature in this case, it is just pushing it along.

The Church’s position on the matter should be respected but this does not mean it should automatically be considered to have a priviledged voice on IVF.
This also counts for other issues that deal with basic civil rights in a modern society.

In this regard, the Green Party believes that Article 2 of the Constitution should be revised. It should place all religions and beliefs on an equal footing, while recognising the fact that Christianity has contributed substantially to the Maltese community.

It is unclear whether IVF will be introduced in this legislature or whether it will be characterised by crusades like the run up to Malta’s introduction of divorce. In any case, the divorce referendum of 2011 shows change is possible.

What started as off as a campaign by AD, where we sent Irish and Italian divorce legislation to members of Parliament, set the ball rolling for the introduction of this civil right in Malta. In this respect, Maltese voters reflexively chose the modern over the traditional and, in a way, showed there is a distinction between one’s religious faith and the introduction of civil rights.

Therefore, the introduction of IVF will not take place simply because one believes one is morally right but has more to do with how one successfully articulates and campaigns for one’s position.

Interesting times lie ahead in the politics of IVF.

Michael Briguglio is chairman of Alternattiva Demokratika

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