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MALTATODAY 12 June 2022

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maltatoday | SUNDAY • 12 JUNE 2022 10 NEWS JAMES DEBONO In its inf lexible ideological opposition to preimplantation genetic testing (PGT), the PN risks defying not just liberal voters but also the political mainstream with a position that lacks empathy. Will conservatism become the last refuge in the party's elusive search of identity? James Debono asks The rogue conservatism which keeps defining the PN AT a historical juncture when Labour's contradictions on so- cial and economic issues are bound to catch up with it on various fronts, ranging from the cost of living to land use, the PN has had a paleo-conservative re- lapse, putting off many who feel the party is out of touch with their values and aspirations. Rubbing salt in the wound, all this is happening despite the generational renewal of the par- ty's parliamentary bench, show- ing that although the MPs have changed, ideas remain fossilized. There is no other way to look about it. On PGT the PN's con- servatism is not just conserva- tive, but out of synch with pop- ular common sense. Faced with a law to limit screening to nine very serious conditions, valid concerns over the risk of the slip- pery slope of eugenics have been resolved. What we are left with is a law – similar to that in France and Germany – which enables parents with very serious hered- itary diseases to screen embryos to ensure that they do not bring to life a sick child whose quality of life would be horrid. This also gives parents carrying these diseases an opportunity to become fathers and mothers without having to worry that their children will live a sad and painful life. That is why it was so easy for Abela to depict his party's position as pro-family. On this issue Labour is showing empathy, while the ideological- ly-rigid PN lacks empathy. A question of empathy In the crude words of shadow health minister Stephen Spiteri, although some of the genetic disorders listed are terminal and would lead to the premature death of the child, others would still allow the child to live for long, even if with discomfort. "Huntingtons' disease reduces life expectancy, creates social, medical and psychological prob- lems but there are people living with this condition and what do we tell them?" was his glib con- tribution. Contrast this with Robert Abe- la's appeal to family values: "We want to give people a chance to build their own families. This is a vote for love, for a more just country." Probably even some- one with a conservative mind- set would find it easier to iden- tify with Abela's empathic words then with Spiteri's intransigent approach. The question the PN has to an- swer is simple: should parents risk giving birth to a life with no quality of life? And is such a life of discomfort worth living? The moral compass Surely even Labour is walking on thin ice when it comes to ethical issues revolving around cellular human life. For simply freezing (instead of discarding) embryos carrying hereditary diseases, in the hope that some- one would adopt them, sounds like the wrong way of evading one important reality: that in some circumstances the quality of life of both parents and off- spring prevails over the life of a cell. Freezing in this sense is the equivalent of discarding a hu- man cell. In this context 'freez- ing' is a way of avoiding to recog- nise the fundamental difference between a human cell and a hu- man person. And if the yardstick guiding our moral compass is the quality of life of parents and offspring, one is expected to use the same yardstick to other situations. The same yardstick applying to a parent undergoing IVF and at risk of bringing a severely disa- bled person on earth, should ap- ply to a parent who accidentally becomes pregnant and faces the same risks. For where is the log- ic in allowing parents at risk of passing on a hereditary disease, to have an embryo permanently frozen, while still banning abor- tion in similar circumstances involving a parent who got acci- dentally pregnant? And if quality of life is our moral compass, what should we do when faced with realities like teenagers forced to carry on with unwanted pregnancies despite the toll on their mental wellbe- ing? For now Labour can evade these dilemmas, fully knowing that abortion still defies the popular common sense of the majority. Yet what is good for the goose should be good for the gander and by prioritising quali- ty of life over the rights of cellu- lar life, Labour is indirectly erod- ing the consensus for Malta's draconian abortion laws, which technically even ban abortion is cases where the physical and mental health of the mother is under threat. This is why the pro-life move- The PN's shadow health minister Stephen Spiteri, a GP, is carrying the party line against PGT

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