A Canadian Senate committee has unanimously passed legislation on assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs) and related matters. Approval by the Senate virtually guarantees that the Assisted Human Reproduction Act - which has been years in the making - will receive Royal Assent and become law.
Last October, bill C-13, entitled 'an Act respecting assisted human reproduction and related research', was passed by the Canadian House of Commons by 149-109 votes, after almost ten years of debate and despite vigorous pro-life opposition. The legislation was reintroduced last month, having stalled in its passage when former prime minister Jean Chretien retired and prorogued Parliament in November. Paul Martin, the new Prime Minister, previously voted in favour of the bill and, when the new session of Parliament began, sent it back to the Senate for consideration.
The Canadian legislation bans human cloning (for both reproductive and therapeutic purposes), the creation of human-animal hybrid embryos, sex selection of embryos for non-medical reasons, payments to women acting as surrogates, payment for donated gametes and the buying or selling of human embryos. It also regulates the collection, alteration, manipulation or treatment of any human reproductive material for the purpose of creating an embryo, storage of reproductive material and information about donors. Under the Act, donors must give fully informed written consent before their gametes or embryos are used, and children born following donation will be entitled to receive medical information about the donors. Donors will be identifiable only if they consent to be so. In addition, the act allows embryonic stem cell (ES cell) research to take place on surplus IVF embryos, but prohibits the creation of embryos specifically for stem cell derivation. It also establishes a regulatory body, the Assisted Human Reproduction Agency of Canada (AHRAC), which will license, monitor and enforce the new law and store data on ARTs, in a similar way to the UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). Also built into the Act is a provision stating that it must be reviewed - and may therefore be altered - in three years time.
Pierre Pettigrew, a Canadian health minister, said the new Act - the first of its kind in Canada - 'fills a legislative void' and brings Canada into line with other nations that regulate ART. A spokesperson for Health Canada said that it 'represents a balanced, reasonable and principled approach'. Welcoming the legislation, Diane Allen, director of the Canadian Infertility Network, said 'this is going to bring in safeguards for fertility patients, for their children, for society as a whole'. But others say it means 'devastating news' for infertile couples: 'There was so much pressure to push through the aspects against cloning, that I don't think they listened to how this is going to affect infertile men and women', said Jan Silverman, an infertility counsellor.