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Two quit board of Canadian fertility watchdog

26 April 2010
Appeared in BioNews 555

Two board members of the Canadian federal agency 'Assisted Human Reproduction Canada' have unexpectedly quit. This follows the resignations of four senior staff members last year. The agency was founded in 2006 to police Canada's growing reproductive technology sector. It was the response to a process that began 17 years ago with a Royal Commission report calling for urgent regulation of the fertility industry.

The two board members are Professor Françoise Baylis, Canada research chair in bioethics and philosophy at Dalhousie University, and Barbara Slater, a former manager of health sciences policy with the Ontario Health Ministry. Both refused to comment on their resignation, referring to a confidentiality agreement they signed on assuming their roles three years ago. Speaking on behalf of the agency, Health Canada also said it was unable to comment. Professor Baylis stated: 'I really do believe there is a story here, but I have to stay true to this confidentiality agreement'.

'This is a critically important agency,' said Dr Jocelyn Downie, an ethicist at Dalhousie University in Halifax. 'Are we losing the independent, non-ideological voices? I don't know. But when you look at the profiles, that is a legitimate question to ask ... Why have these people left, and what does it leave us with as a board?'

The agency is currently facing extensive criticism on lack of action, which emphasises the poignancy of the recent resignations. In three years, the agency has done very little licensing and enforcement work, according to Canada's National Post. The newspaper claims there are many pressing issues in Canada's fertility industry that remain to be acted upon, including the routine sale of gametes and surrogacy services, the increasing number of multiple births resulting from IVF, the anonymity of donors that prevent children identifying their biological parents, and the long-term health of women after fertility treatment.

Diane Allen, Toronto-based head of the Infertility Network, said: 'It is incredibly frustrating…Business is continuing just as it was before'. She commented that the two directors seemed 'diligent' and 'knowledgeable' and she was 'concerned' and 'distressed' at the news. Juliet Guichon, a bio-ethicist and lawyer at the University of Calgary, said: 'The fact [Baylis] has found herself unable to continue ought to be a red flag'.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
'Red Flag' raised at fertility agency
National Post |  20 April 2010
The impotency of Canada's fertility laws
National Post |  13 February 2009
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