Canada's Fertility Industry Now Open for (Unregulated) Business

Posted by Emily Beitiks April 19, 2012
Biopolitical Times
In a decision that has unsettled many, the Canadian government has decided to close down the agency charged with regulating the country’s fertility industry. The defunding of Assisted Human Reproduction Canada (AHRC) leaves the industry with virtually no official oversight.

The regulatory agency was established in 2006 to enforce the Assisted Human Reproduction Act (AHRA), which prohibited commercial trade in sperm, eggs, and surrogacy services, and addressed other issues including the effects of anonymous gamete donation on the resulting children and the health impacts of fertility treatments on women and their offspring.

But in 2010 the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that portions of the law, which was passed after years of public discussion and legislative debate, were unconstitutional, on the grounds that it stepped on the toes of the provinces’ rights. The court’s ruling undermined the effectiveness of Assisted Human Reproduction Canada before it ever really got going. AHRC’s shortcomings make the decision earlier this month to shutter it unsurprising but nevertheless disconcerting. Canadian bioethicist Françoise Baylis told The National Post:
I think the whole debacle is shocking…There has been close to 30 years invested in terms of effort, energy and money [on the issue] and it’s all for naught.

As Baylis and others note, the concerns that brought about the Assisted Human Reproduction Act have not, after all, gone away. While the buying and selling of gametes and surrogacy services continued throughout the era of the AHRC, fertility clinics tried to avoid blatant abuses in order to stay under the radar. The agency’s shutdown next year could leave the Canadian fertility industry with less oversight and fewer guidelines than ever.

Baylis recommends that AHRC’s authority be transferred to Health Canada’s Assisted Human Reproduction Implementation Office. “Health Canada could start working and writing regulations and they could be passed, which would result in a law that’s operational,” she told MacLean’s. While it is unclear whether Health Canada will take on those tasks, the stakes, as Baylis points out, are high: “We are manipulating the stuff of life,” she said. “And we can’t even begin to imagine the possibilities.” 

 Previously on Biopolitical Times: