Brussels, Jul 2005
The Maltese government's Social Affairs Committee has presented recommendations to the national parliament, which support the authorisation of genetic research providing that a number of conditions are met.
The recommendations follow an eight-month consultation and discussion period, but the opposition Labour Party would like to see this debate extended in order to take further into account the expectations of the Maltese population.
The committee's recommendations state that genetic research should be allowed by law on condition that:
- the dignity and integrity of the human being is respected;
- such research is not used for discrimination on the basis of genetics;
- the research is not used for genetic selection;
- any medical scientific intervention on a human being is made only for the benefit of that person;
- such activities do not expose the human being to unreasonable risks;
- the individual concerned gives free and informed consent;
- no part of the human body is used for financial gain.
The committee also said that research on adult stem cells should be acceptable, but that the creation of embryos for research purposes should be prohibited. Research on stem cells removed from a foetus after natural miscarriage should be permissible following consent from the parents, according to the committee, and research on stem cells from the umbilical cord and the placenta should also be allowed.
On genetic therapy, the committee recommended authorisation of the use of adult stem cells for therapeutic purposes, but said that stem cells from embryos should only be used for therapeutic purposes following a natural miscarriage.
Human cloning should be banned, even when intended for the therapeutic treatment of another person, said the committee.
The Social Affairs Committee was slightly perturbed when, after securing a fragile consensus after eight months of debate, the bishops of Malta made a statement claiming that human life begins at a point earlier than that on which the committee had based discussions.
The committee's position on the moment at which human life begins is based upon that of the Roman Catholic Church. The Donum Vitae states that human generation starts from the moment that they zygote is formed - the zygote is the cell produced when the nuclei of the two gametes have fused.
'This doctrinal reminder provides the fundamental criterion for the solution of the various problems posed by the development of the biomedical sciences in this field: since the embryo must be treated as a person, it must also be defended in its integrity, tended and cared for, to the extend possible, in the same way as any other human being as far as medical assistance is concerned,' the Donum Vitae adds.
However, a statement by the Maltese bishops claims that human life begins a stage earlier than this, with 'the penetration of the spermatozoon'. 'It is not the role of the Church to enter into scientific discussions regarding the various phases of the development of the embryo. However, from the moral aspect, the fecundated egg, from the moment of the penetration of the spermatozoon, has to be respected and treated like a human person,' said the bishops.