“The inclusion of persons with disabilities, at all levels of society, is part and parcel of our commitment to uphold our democratic values, and safeguard universal human rights.” This was one of the messages relayed by the President of Malta, Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca when she delivered the opening address at the “Every Life Matters” Conference at the Grand Hotel Excelsior. The aim of the conference was to raise awareness on inclusion and the threats faced by persons with disabilities, whose lives are at risk of annihilation in the womb.
The President said that it is essential for us to always promote, prioritise, and protect the intrinsic dignity of the human person. This is especially necessary at a time when our country is undergoing historical changes, in the spheres of legislation and policy, which deal with sensitive areas of reproductive care. She said that she believes that it is necessary for all of our professionals, civil society activists, national authorities, and also members of affected communities, to participate in respectful dialogue, around these issues of such ethical importance.
She made a reference to the individuals and families who have first hand experiences of living with disabilites and who had the opportunity to share their narratives during the conference and said: “You are the experts on your own lives, and it is our responsibility to listen to your needs and aspirations.”
In his welcome speech, Fr Martin Micallef, Director of Id-Dar tal-Providenza, said that in these last fifty years, thanks to pioneers in the sector of persons with disability, persons with disability have made huge strides where rights, social inclusion and services are concerned, and for this we have every reason to be proud although there is still a lot more to be done. This is all a result of increased awareness of the dignity that persons with disability should enjoy as equal citizens.
Fr Martin said that this conference, entitled “Every Life Matters” has the aim to challenge us to work together as a society to desist from looking at the difference not as a threat but as something that enriches us. “We need to stop looking at how much a human being can produce and how capable he or she is to climb the ladders of success. We need to look at every person as unique, unrepeatable and precious – rich in humanity and spiritualilty; we need to look at each person not in the light of how much he has value but as someone who enjoys immeasurable dignity. A true society is gauged only by the respect with which it looks at every person.”
“We who believe that Every Life Matters are aggrieved when we meet expectant parents who, perhaps, might face some risks because of age or other reasons, that relate to us their experiences of advice they are given by gynaecologists, professionals or others to undergo the necessary tests so that if anything comes up in the results, ‘they use their head’.”
He concluded by saying: “We who believe that Every Life Matters wish to continue living in a society that enjoys legislation that always guarantees the right to life in all its stages without choosing who has to live or die.”
There were two keynote speeches. The first one by Prof Carmen Martinez Cue of the One of Us Federation who focused on the ‘New Advances and Research in the treatment of people with Down Syndrome’. Prof Martinez Cue is Associate Professor of Pharmacology in the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Cantabria. It was followed by an intervention by Dr Domenico Coviello on ‘Embryo selection and prenatal testing, medical and ethical aspects’. Dr Coviello is currently Director of the Laboratory of Human Genetics at Galliera Hospital in Genoa where he has been since March 2010.
There were three testimonies by Joeanne Xerri and Vanessa Portanier, two mothers raising a child with disability followed by Amy Camilleri Zahra who lives with a disability.
The closing address was made by Mgr Charles Cordina, Episcopal Vicar for Diaconia of the Archdiocese of Malta.
The “Every Life Matters” conference was organised by the Life Network Foundation Malta and Id-Dar tal-Providenza in collaboration with the One of Us Federation and LeJeune Foundation.