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Another member leaves Canada's AHRC

7 June 2010
Appeared in BioNews 561

A third board member of Canada's fertility industry regulator, the Assisted Human Reproduction Canada (AHRC), has resigned.

Irene Ryll, the agency's consumer representative, resigned from her duties leaving critics to call for a public investigation into its operations, or lack of as perceived by many. In April, two other respected board members, Barbara Slater and Francoise Baylis, also resigned - but would not comment on their reasons for doing so at the time, citing confidentiality agreements signed with the agency upon their appointment. Since then the National Post newspaper has seen Slater's letter of resignation which outlines her concern over the agency's 'prudence and diligence in managing public funds'.

Criticism of the AHRC has been mounting as the resignations have been seen as indicative of disagreements within the agency, further adding to speculation over its perceived inactivity. 'It's obviously a mess,' said Diane Allen, head of the Infertility Network in Canada. 'This is about the creation of human life, and the purpose of the [law] is to safeguard the health and safety of fertility patients and the children born to them, and the agency is charged with overseeing that,' she said. The lost of esteemed members of the board is seen by many as a blow to the proper functioning of the agency.

The agency plays both a licensing and enforcement role, yet despite being formed over three years ago and wielding a budget of over $12 million it has done very little of either, says the National Post. 'This is a critically important agency,' explains Jocelyn Downie, an ethicist at Dalhousie University. 'Are we losing the independent, non-ideological voices? I don't know. But when you look at the profiles, [it] is a legitimate question to ask... Why have these people left, and what does it leave us with as a board?'

The sale of gametes is prohibited under Canada's Assisted Human Reproduction Act 2004, but reimbursement for expenses incurred during donation is permitted. Many believe the lack of AHRC guidance on 'legitimate expenses' and its failure to ensure adequate and consistent compliance with the law has resulted in clinics adopting different practices resulting in a lack of uniformity. The AHRC says that specific guidance must first come from Health Canada, the federal body responsible for overseeing the provision of healthcare. Health Canada has responded that it must await the decision of Canada's Supreme Court on a challenge of the country's laws governing reproductive technologies brought by the state of Quebec. The AHRC says that it must too await this decision before acting.

Others suspect that the resignations indicate an ideological divergence of views within the agency with those board members remaining holding more conservative views. John Hamm, a former Conservative, heads the AHRC and other board members include those with strong views against abortion and embryonic stem cell research. In her letter of resignation, Slater suggested that dynamic functioning between board members may have broken down. 'It appears that board members who are trying to fulfil their responsibilities are seen as obstructionist - I am unable to fulfil the duties entrusted to me in a manner that satisfies my conscience and my integrity,' she wrote. New Democrat MP Megal Leslie said the news was 'alarming' and asked, 'Why are these people leaving, and leaving behind folks I perceive as more in line with Conservative ideology?' Leslie is due to ask Canada's parliament to launch an investigation into the recent resignations at AHRC and its operations.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Board members flee federal agency
Canoe |  2 June 2010
Fertility spending at issue: letter
National Post |  1 June 2010
Third board member quits fertility industry watchdog
National Post |  31 May 2010
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