Will she or won’t she?

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

President Marie Louise Coleiro Preca may currently be fixed on the proverbial horns of a dilemma. She expressed concern at the speed with which government was pushing the amendments to the Embryo Protection Act. She also evinced the hope that when the bill would come to her for signature, the moral and ethical issues would have been resolved. She had gone so far as to pass on to the Minister a letter given to her by pro-life urging  the Minister for Health to seek the advice of the Attorney General on the consitituionality of the amended act. In a, for her, unprecedented move, she asked government for more time for reflection and for more voices to be heard on this issue of embryo freezing and surrogacy. Government, facing criticism that no proper consultation had taken place, opened up for some consultation. The upshot of that was that the cildren born as a result of gamete donation would now be given the possibility of knowing their biological parents on attaining majority. On embryo freezing, surreptitiously, at the eleventh hour, government then introduced an amendment to increase to number of frozen embryos from 3 to 5. On surrogacy, the matter was shelved for future reference. These changes were considered by by pro-life groups to be, at best static but effectively a deterioration.

The question is: Will she sign the Act to enable it as law of the country? There are precedents.

When the original Embryo Protection Act had been in the making, prior to being moved in parliament, the then President Dr Eddie Fenech Adami had let it be known that if the law contained elements which he considered to go against his conscience, he would not sign the act. President Geogre Abela had taken a similar position when he had objected to signing the law which provided for adoption by same-sex couples. In this case, the law had been signed by the then newly-minted President Coleiro Preca.

The current President has already outline the path which the president is normally obliged to take. In a letter to the pro-life movements earlier this month she described her position as one “…bound to act on the advice of the government of the day or of a minister of government, and, in the case of Bills approved by the House of Representatives, to assent thereto without delay”. This is, however, nothing more than a reiteration of the words of the Constitution.

Arguably, none of the President’s actions so far can be interpreted as indicative of her leanings either way on this bill which, she herself noted, contained ethical and moral issues. One cannot help but ask why surrogacy was postponed for a future date and if this was the nub which was irking the President. It would be equally legitimate to ask if the president feels kinship with the ethical and moral issues raised by 500 doctors, 100 academics and 23 geneticists and kindred scientists who had expressed themselves clearly against freezing.

The question remains.

Sylvana Debono