The Irish Commission on Assisted Human Reproduction (CAHR) has issued a report suggesting ways in which assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs) should be regulated in Ireland. The report, which contains 40 recommendations, says that a new authority should be established to regulate ARTs, which are currently not governed by formal legislation but only by the code of ethics of Ireland's Medical Council. The report has been forwarded to the Oireachtas Committee on Health for discussion.
The CAHR was set up in March 2000, by the then Minister for Health, Michael Martin. At that time, it was asked to produce a report on potential approaches to the regulation of ARTs, and its terms of reference have included the social, legal and ethical factors that should be taken into account when deciding on policy in this area. University College Dublin Professor Dervilla Donnelly chairs the commission, which is made up of 21 members including scientists, doctors, lawyers, social scientists, civil servants, ethicists, psychiatrists and experts in human infertility. Over the past five years it has taken and considered submissions from other interested parties and groups. According to Professor Donnelly, Ireland needs to have proposals on the regulation of some areas of ART in place by 7 April 2006. At this time, an EU Directive, which requires compliance by all member states, comes into force. The Directive requires certain standards for the donation, testing, processing, storage and distribution of all human tissues, including reproductive tissue, and requires that a 'competent authority' be set up to implement its provisions.
The CAHR's new report recommends that egg, sperm and embryo donation, as well as surrogacy arrangements, should all be permitted, while human reproductive cloning should be banned. The report also says that fertility treatments should be available to unmarried parents, including lesbian couples, as long as the welfare of the potential child is taken into account by clinicians when deciding whether to provide prospective parents with treatment. It also recommends that some forms of embryo research be permitted, under licence.
According to the Irish Times newspaper, IVF has been performed in Ireland since 1980, and nine clinics across the country offer some forms of ART treatments. However, some groups, including the Catholic Church oppose some infertility treatment practices - such as IVF - because they involve the disposal of surplus embryos. Somewhat controversially, the new report states that IVF embryos only attract legal protection after implantation in the womb. This 'paves the way' for some of the other recommendations, such as those that allow surplus IVF embryos to be donated for research purposes, or disposed of, subject to strict conditions.
Mary Harney, Ireland's Tanaiste and the Minister for Health and Children, welcomed the report. She said: 'it is not satisfactory that there is no statutory regulation in the area of assisted reproduction', adding that in advance of the Government framing such legislation, 'the Commission's report needs to be subjected to public and political consideration'.