WASHINGTON - March 12 - Canadas new Assisted Human Reproduction Law, approved on Thursday, March 11 by the Canadian Senate, is perhaps the most significant legislation concerning genetic and reproductive technologies enacted by any country in recent years, according to experts at the Oakland, California-based Center for Genetics and Society (CGS). It provides a model for governing these technologies, they said, that could break the logjam blocking approval of such regulations in the United States.
People differ about many things connected to sex and reproduction, said CGS Associate Director Dr. Marcy Darnovsky, but the Canadians were able to bridge those differences in a way that the United States has thus far not been able to do. They identified areas of broad consensus and then negotiated over remaining differences.
The law establishes a new federal body, the Assisted Human Reproduction Agency of Canada (AHRAC), to oversee research and clinical applications involving human eggs, sperm and embryos. Labs and clinics wishing to do such work will have to be licensed by the AHRAC and subject to its regulations.
The new law allows research on donated human embryos not used during in vitro fertilization efforts, if informed consent has been granted, but prohibits the creation of new embryos specifically for research purposes. This includes creation of embryos by means of cloning.
Canadian stem cell researchers supported this law because it establishes a reasonable framework allowing needed embryonic stem cell research to proceed, said Dr. Darnovsky. The law will be reviewed after three years, and if public support exists for changes, those can be made then.
The new law also bans the use of techniques to select the sex of a baby for other than medical reasons, the use of cloning techniques to create a baby, the creation of designer babies by manipulating inheritable genes, the creation of human-animal chimeras, and the commercialization of eggs, sperm, and surrogacy services.
Its important to realize that the new law was based on extensive public hearings and meetings involving thousands of Canadians from all constituencies and walks of life, said Richard Hayes, Executive Director of the Center for Genetics and Society. That sort of broad citizens involvement has been absent from the polarized debate in the United States.
Some in the United States assume that if youre a conservative you want all these technologies banned and if youre a liberal you want them all allowed, Hayes said. But look at Canada. Theyve been pioneers on gay marriage, medical marijuana, national health care, and opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Hardly conservative. They put research cloning off-limits, at least for now, because they knew it was not necessary in order to allow stem cell research to continue, and because its development carries real risks.
Many constituencies played key roles in building consensus for the new Canadian law, notably including the womens health community. Canadian women knew that they couldnt trust the profit-driven fertility industry to regulate itself to avoid abusive and coercive practices, said Dr. Darnovsky. We believe American women will play an equally important role in securing strong regulations of new reproductive technologies here in the United States.
1. Text of the Assisted Human Reproduction Act: http://www.parl.gc.ca/PDF/37/3/parlbus/chambus/house/bills/government/C-6_3.pdf
2. Key Background Documents: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/english/protection/reproduction/index.htm