New legislation introduced by the Victorian government in Australia, which requires all prospective IVF patients to have criminal background checks to ensure they have no previous history of violent or sexual crimes, has outraged patients and clinicians alike.
The Assisted Reproduction Treatment Act, passed in December 2008, which also enables single women and lesbian couples to receive IVF treatment, was introduced after recommendations were made from the Victorian Law Reform Commission. The Commission recommended that people with convictions for serious sex or violent offences should have children taken from their care or should be barred from IVF treatment as they pose a potential risk. However, it did not recommend police checks but that all patients should declare any criminal history. The Victorian government took this further and the legislation imposes police background checks on all prospective parents. The new law will affect around 5000 couples each year and has elicited angry responses from those in the industry.
IVF pioneer Professor Gab Kovacs of Monash IVF in Melbourne, said the checks requirement was 'stupid', adding: 'We talk about practising evidence-based medicine, I think it's time that the politicians practiced evidence-based legislation.'
'Unless we're going to do this for all couples, and every couple has to have a police check and a child abuse check before they got pregnant, I believe this is very discriminatory against couples with fertility problems,' he said.
Although the Act was proclaimed on 1 June the government does not currently have the resources to enforce the regulations. However, some clinics are asking patients to undertake voluntary checks in order to avoid a backlog when the laws are adopted.
Dr Lyndon Hale, director of Melbourne IVF says the rationale for the background checking is questionable. 'The argument forwarded by the Government is that this is government funds that are being used to help these people get pregnant and therefore they require extra checking', he said. He added: 'Patients who are infertile have obviously wanted to be parents for a long period of time and they're going through significant stresses and concerns and on top of that, someone's saying; we just want to check that you're not a paedophile or have some sort of violent person who shouldn't be having children. It does seem to be isolating or picking on IVF patients.'
Sandra Dill, from the group ACCESS, which represents IVF parents and patients, says 'bring on the next election'. Se continued: 'The bill has gone through the normal legislative process and those requirements will come in, but we will not rest until they are removed. As indeed they have been removed from two other states where they've been proven to be ineffective. If the Government was genuinely sincere about protecting or acting in the best interest of children as they've claimed, then they would require every man and every woman to undergo a police check before they take their baby home from hospital'.