The strict laws on assisted reproduction in Malta are set to be liberalised in a bill put forward in Parliament this month, although embryo destruction will remain illegal.
'We will be pushing forward the concept of equality that favours life, and that unites us,' said Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, after his cabinet unanimously approved the changes.
The current law, as laid out in the Embryo Protection Act 2012, restricts access to fertility treatment to heterosexual couples by outlawing gamete donation and surrogacy.
Currently, only two eggs may be fertilised in an IVF cycle and both must be transferred to the woman. Embryos may only be frozen in exceptional circumstances, such as when the prospective mother suffers a serious illness or injury between fertilisation and the planned transfer date. Leftover eggs may be frozen for subsequent use as long as they are not fertilised.
The proposed bill would permit the creation of up to five embryos, of which a maximum of two could be transferred at a time. Other embryos, if created, must be frozen and subsequently used to try to establish a pregnancy.
The new bill will not change the country's stance on embryo destruction. Embryo research will remain illegal, and even embryos with serious defects cannot be discarded. If a couple still has frozen embryos when they have completed their family, or if a woman reaches age 43 and has not used the embryos, the bill stipulates that the embryos be made available for 'adoption' and donated to other couples, so they are not destroyed or left frozen indefinitely.
'In this way, all frozen embryos will have the possibility to develop because the authority will be able to give them up for adoption, even to couples abroad,' said deputy prime minister Chris Fearne.
Fearne also hopes to introduce regulations allowing surrogacy arrangements in an upcoming white paper. 'We do not have a popular mandate for surrogacy and this is why we are suggesting a consultation process on altruistic surrogacy,' he said.