Gynaecologist Mark Sant has warned that couples are suffering as a result of Malta’s ban on preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), which involves the screening of embryos for genetic problems prior to their implantation in an IVF procedure.
During a debate on Glen Falzon’s TVMi Insight last night, Sant brought up a case of a patient whose son recently died of gangliosidosis, a genetic disorder that progressively destroys nerve cells in infants.
“This patient asked me to help her go overseas, perhaps with the aid of the Malta Community Chest Fund, so she can have another child without gangliosidosis,” he recounted. “She spoke to the Prime Minister for help too, but Maltese law means we cannot help her as it is. This patient told me that she feels a great emptiness in her heart and home but that she cannot afford to take the risk, which is around one in four, of having another child with that condition.”
“Is it fair that we can help this couple avoid pain and allow them to have a normal baby but we’re not doing so?”
Sant said that discussions with the authorities on PGD had started when Malta updated its IVF laws last year but that it was cut short as soon as it was pointed out that the procedure can be used to identity embryos with Down Syndrome.
“However, the point of PGD isn’t to identify embryos with Down Syndrome but embryos with gangliosidosis and Huntington’s Disease,” he said, noting that people with genes for those disorders have a 25% and 50% chance respectively of producing such embryos.
“The discussion on Down Syndrome in Malta was on what to do if an embryo is identified with it. Will we then oblige a parent to accept an embryo with Down Syndrome? Personally, I disagree, but that’s a separate discussion.”
During the debate, Sant faced off against doctor Michael Asciak, who chaired the bioethics committee during the drafting of Malta’s original IVF law.
Asciak warned that PGD will be the start of a slippery road towards eugenics and argued that everyone who opposes abortion should also oppose the legalisation of PGD.
“If we start choosing people based on their genetic defects, we’ll go against human dignity,” he said. “We shouldn’t choose who lives and who dies. At its essence, PGD is about discarding embryos at an early stage and the truth is that we shouldn’t discard human beings.”