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News in brief: Australia, Canada, Spain

9 May 2005
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 307

The Australian federal government, which was planning to cut back on funding for IVF in its budget next month, has backed down. It was considering placing a cap on the number of Medicare-funded IVF treatments to a maximum of three for women over 42 and three per year for women below that age. The average cost of a cycle of IVF in Australia is about $8000, of which about half is usually Government-funded. At the moment, there is no limit to the number of IVF cycles that a woman can receive.

Now, Peter Costello, Australia's Treasurer, said that the proposed changes would not appear in next month's budget although they have not been ruled out for the future. For now, they will instead be sent forward to an expert committee for investigation. Julia Gillard, the federal Shadow Health Minister, who launched a petition to protest about the proposed limits, said that the Government should rule out the proposed cuts altogether.

Health Canada (HC) has issued a Request for Proposal for a pilot project to look into ways to encourage altruistic egg and sperm donation in Canada. It is inviting fertility clinics in the country to work together to develop strategies to recruit unpaid gamete donors, as part of its implementation of the Assisted Human Reproduction Act, passed in 2004. Before the Act came into force, donors were able to be paid, but the Act changed the rules and now purchasing, offering to purchase or advertising to purchase donor gametes is prohibited. Initially, HC will contract with one fertility clinic on the project, which in turn will work with a minimum of two other clinics. After the lead clinic reports back to HC, expected to be after 18 months from the start of the project, any information gathered will be available to all clinics, to help them with the recruitment of altruistic donors.

The Spanish government has approved a bill on assisted reproduction which, among other things, will make the creation of 'saviour siblings' legal in Spain. The proposed new law will allow 'those with sterility problems to have children' and allow, in 'exceptional cases', embryos to be selected to be a match for a sick sibling where the life of a child is at stake. The law also proposes to prohibit human reproductive cloning and sex selection and continue to prohibit surrogacy. At the same time, it will lift current restrictions that limit the number of eggs that can be fertilised in any IVF cycle to three and restrictions on embryo research, which currently only allow research to take place on embryos frozen before 2003. The bill, opposed by religious groups, now has to go to Parliament for debate and a vote.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Budget to leave IVF treatment alone
The Australian |  8 May 2005
Costello defers IVF announcement
Sydney Morning Herald |  8 May 2005
Health Canada announces project to explore altruistic (not for payment) donation of sperm and eggs in Canada
Health Canada |  2 May 2005
Spanish government OKs embryo selection in lifesaving cases
Yahoo Daily News |  6 May 2005
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