In December, the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) struck down most of the Assisted Human Reproduction Act (AHRA) of 2004. This ruling invalidated almost all Canadian federal regulations covering the many sticky areas of emerging assisted human reproduction (AHR) practice.
If Canadians are to establish rights, justice, and protection for themselves and their children, they must pass laws through provincial governments like Ontario. These must give considered treatment to new technologies and changing social norms. Surrogacy, donor conception and advances in genetic testing all lead Ontarians into uncharted ethical, legal, and moral territory.
Dear to my heart and my children's future are the issues surrounding conception using donor gametes. One of these is donor anonymity. In May, the British Columbia (BC) Supreme Court ruled on the Pratten case (see BioNews 581). This supported the ethics of ensuring donor-conceived people have access to information about their biological origins. BC is leading Canada on this fundamental matter of human rights and Ontario should follow.
Another key area for Ontario is ensuring the future of a Canadian donor registry. This now rests with provincial governments following the demise of key sections of the AHRA. Such a publically-held information store is vitally important to ensure donor-conceived people and gamete donors can discover information about their biological kin.
Ontario should consider how to ensure donor-conceived adults receive counselling. Few clinics - in my experience - provide this. Some even encourage parents to present a false story to their children. Clinics are not required to counsel would-be parents facing a donor conception decision. Nor are they obligated to encourage openness about the issue with their children. Yet many donor-conceived adults warn of psychological damage done when information about their biological origins is withheld.
Ontarians need to build a local, open, altruistic gamete supply too. Currently Canadian legislation dealing with donation is inconsistent. Due to limited supply, the law presently allows gametes to be purchased from international suppliers. Yet the December SCC decision upheld the section of the AHRA that required tissue/gamete donation to be an altruistic act, indicating this reflected core Canadian values.
Birth certificate laws also need amending to recognise the intricate situations resulting from donor conception. Specifically, these laws must ensure the rights of the non-biological parent while protecting the gamete donor from unreasonable liability.
It also falls to the Ontario provincial government to protect consumers of AHR services. Recent scandals, including the Barwin case of an alleged sperm mix-up in Ottawa, suggest that industry-led certification and enforcement may prove insufficient.
So how must Ontario proceed? The answer is to pass clear legislation that defines and enforces ethical AHR practice, especially surrounding donor conception. This legislation will assert the rights of Ontarians who pursue sanctioned AHR treatments, guard the rights of the children created, and ensure the well-being of all parties.