Cabinet approves publication of Health (Assisted Human Reproduction) Bill 2022

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Health Minister, Stephen Donnelly, received Cabinet approval last week for the publication of the Health (Assisted Human Reproduction) Bill 2022 and its presentation to the Dáil.  

The Department of Health said this comprehensive and far-reaching piece of legislation essentially encompassed the regulation of a wide-ranging and technology-centred area of healthcare for the very first time in Ireland.

“It will ensure that Assisted Human Reproduction (AHR) practices and related areas of research are conducted in a more consistent and standardised way and with the necessary oversight – with the establishment of the AHR Regulatory Authority (AHRRA).”

Minister Donnelly said, “I am delighted that Cabinet has approved this much-needed and historic piece of legislation. It will lead to a robust specific regulatory framework being put in place in respect of this complex, innovative and fast-moving area of medicine, which is currently predominately provided through the private sector. This will assist thousands of people who wish to have children safely through AHR, it will clarify the legal position of children born from AHR, and it will ensure that research and new reproductive technologies are carried out within a prescribed ethical context.

“The commencement of the AHR legislation will also allow us to progress the Government’s plan to introduce the provision of advanced AHR treatment, including IVF, in the public health system, specifically through the final phase of the roll-out of the Model of Care for Infertility.” 

The new AHR Regulatory Authority (AHRRA) will be responsible for regulating more frequently-undertaken AHR treatments such as IVF or ICSI, as well as licensing and regulating the provision of other specific practices including:

  • Domestic altruistic surrogacy
  • Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (or PGD) and other related embryo screening procedures.
  • Posthumous assisted human reproduction (PAHR), which is the application of AHR technology to achieve a pregnancy using the gamete or embryo of a deceased person, or an embryo created using the gametes of a deceased person. 

The Department said that building upon the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015, the AHRRA would maintain both the new National Surrogacy Register and the already-existing National Donor-Conceived Person Register.

“In addition, regarding research involving embryos and stem cells, the legislation clearly sets out what practices are prohibited, what practices are allowed and how they should be regulated.”

The Minister said, “I believe the role of the new regulatory authority will be key to embedding safe and appropriate clinical AHR practices in this country and I hope that ultimately this legislation will improve the outcomes for, and ensure the health and wellbeing of, all of the parties to the provision of AHR treatment, but, above all else, consideration of the children born as a result of AHR must be of paramount significance.”
 

In October 2017, the Government approved the drafting of a Bill on AHR and associated areas of research, based on the published General Scheme of the Assisted Human Reproduction Bill. The Bill aims to regulate the area of AHR in order to assist people to have children safely, clarify the legal position of children born from these practices; and ensure research and new reproductive technologies are carried out within a prescribed ethical framework. This Bill also provides for the establishment of the Assisted Human Reproduction Regulatory Authority (AHRRA), which will be the body responsible for ensuring compliance with the new regulatory framework in respect of a wide range of practices undertaken within this jurisdiction. 

 The Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health published the “Report on Pre-Legislative Scrutiny of the General Scheme of the Assisted Human Reproduction Bill” in July 2019, following the completion of its pre-legislative scrutiny process, which had commenced in January 2018. The Committee made 11 main recommendations, which included proposals related to broad policy objectives and more technical amendments. These recommendations were taken into consideration during the drafting of the final Bill.  

It should also be noted that the Children and Family Relationships (CFR) Act 2015 reformed and updated family law to address the needs of children living in diverse family types. Parts 2 & 3 of the CFR Act 2015 were commenced in May 2020 and provide a legal framework for parentage of children who are born as result of AHR treatment involving donated eggs or sperm or embryos. Part 3 of the CFR Act 2015 also provided for the establishment of the National Donor-Conceived Person Register (NDCPR) to ensure that records are required to be kept in relation to the identity of the donor(s), the child, the mother and the intending parent for the purposes of enabling donor-conceived children to access information relating to their genetic heritage. 

The focus throughout the drafting of the Bill has always been on regulation of practices undertaken in this jurisdiction exclusively, and therefore it does not contain provisions in respect of international surrogacy. However, a Special Joint Oireachtas Committee is being set up to examine all aspects of this most complicated of issues, with a view to issuing recommendations within three months.