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Government approves the drafting of the Assisted Human Reproduction Bill

Minister Harris to revert to government by year end with proposals for State funding model for fertility treatment

The Minister for Health Simon Harris has welcomed the Government's decision today to approve his drafting of a Bill on Assisted Human Reproduction (AHR) and associated research. Minister Harris will revert to government by the end of the year with proposals for State funding for fertility treatment.

The General Scheme will now be published and submitted to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health for review.

Minister Harris said “This new legislation is the first time that a comprehensive package of measures has been drafted for the area of AHR as a whole. It has been long called for and is a very important milestone. This legislation is needed to protect, promote and ensure the health and safety of parents, and children born as a result of AHR treatment, as well as other parties who may be involved such as donors and surrogates. Consideration of the welfare and best interests of children born through AHR is a key principle underpinning the Scheme."

This comprehensive General Scheme encompasses a number of key elements, including:
· Providing for the establishment of the Assisted Human Reproduction Regulatory Authority as a dedicated, independent body to oversee this sector.
· Outlining the conditions relating to the donation of gametes and embryos for use in AHR treatment by others and/or for use in research.
· Permitting posthumous assisted reproduction (PAR), where gametes provided by a deceased person, or embryos created using those gametes, may be used by that person's surviving female partner as part of her AHR treatment, provided specific criteria are met.
· Outlining the specific conditions under which surrogacy in Ireland will be permitted, including a requirement for all surrogacy agreements to be pre-authorised by the AHR Regulatory Authority. The Scheme also sets out a court-based mechanism through which the parentage of a child born through surrogacy may be transferred from the surrogate (and her husband, if applicable) to the intending parent(s).
· Specifying the conditions under which research involving embryos, embryonic stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells may be permitted, subject to obtaining a licence from the AHR Regulatory Authority.

Minister Harris said "The AHR Regulatory Authority will be essential to the successful implementation of the legislation given the complexity of the issues involved in regulating this area and the rapidly evolving nature of AHR and research technologies. A key function of the Regulatory Authority will be the collection of statistical information from AHR providers, beyond that which is currently available, on all AHR activities and their outcomes (e.g. number of children born). This information will be very beneficial.”

Minister Harris concluded that "the provisions outlined within the Scheme, including the establishment of the AHR Regulatory Authority, will ensure that AHR practices and related areas of research are conducted in a more consistent and standardised way and with the necessary oversight".

Notes for Editors: 

Over the last number of years there have been repeated calls for the implementation of specific legislation in relation to AHR and related research practices, for example, from the report of the Commission on Assisted Human Reproduction in 2005 up to more recent high-profile cases in the Supreme Court, such as the MR & Anor v An tArd Chlaraitheoir & Ors (surrogacy) case in 2014.

In February 2015, the Government approved the drafting of a General Scheme of a Bill for AHR and associated research. The provisions outlined in the Scheme reflect that Government decision and also affirm a more recent commitment in the Programme for Partnership Government relating to the regulation of AHR and surrogacy.

International Surrogacy
Commercial surrogacy raises a number of concerns relating to the welfare and commodification of the children involved as well as the potential risks of coercion and exploitation of financially vulnerable women to act as surrogates. In light of this the General Scheme explicitly prohibits commercial surrogacy being conducted in Ireland.

Given the legal and practical complexity of regulating commercial surrogacy in other jurisdictions the General Scheme does not regulate Irish citizens being involved in international commercial surrogacy agreements in other countries.

Public Funding for AHR
In 2016 the Health Research Board (HRB) was engaged to conduct a comprehensive review of international public funding models for AHR. The completed HRB evidence review was published in March 2017 and is available here:

This evidence review examines the public funding mechanisms for AHR in different countries. The review looks at the associated costs and benefits for the funder, provider and patient, the criteria for accessing the public funded service and the basis for these criteria in different jurisdictions. An analysis of the HRB evidence review will feed into the development of policy options for a potential public funding model for AHR treatment, which will be presented to the Minister for Health by the end of this year. Any funding model that might ultimately be introduced would need to operate within the broader regulatory framework set out in the AHR Bill.

Interactions with the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015
The Children and Family Relationships (CFR) Act (2015) puts in place a legal architecture to underpin diverse parenting situations and to provide legal clarity on parental rights and responsibilities. Parts 2 and 3 of the CFR Act, which are the responsibility of the Minister for Health, contain provisions relating to donor assisted human reproduction (DAHR) procedures and the rights of donor-conceived people to access information about their genetic heritage, which includes mandating for non-anonymous donation and provision for the establishment of a National Donor-Conceived Person Register. It is envisaged that Parts 2 and 3 of the CFR Act will be commenced before the end of 2017.

While the responsibility for those Parts of the CFR Act currently rests with the Minister for Health, the intention is that the AHR Regulatory Authority provided for in the General Scheme of the AHR Bill will ultimately take on those functions once it has been established.
This will help to ensure that the AHR-related provisions of the CFR Act are effectively operationalised in a coherent way within the context of the broader regulatory framework for AHR.