Submission to ACART on the Use of In Vitro Maturation (March 2009)

Question 1:
Given the identified risks and benefits, what is your opinion on ACART's proposed advice to the Minister of Health?

(See chapter 3 for a discussion of risks and benefits, and chapter 6 for the proposed advice.)

It is our considered view that IVM remains a novel procedure. We note, in particular, that "IVM compromises subsequent embryo development rates [and that] the reasons for this are complex and not yet fully understood" (p. 5 of Discussion document). While current indications are that "the rate of congenital abnormalities appears consistent with that of IVF generally [and while] physical and neurological development appears consistent with that of IVF generally" (page 6, emphasis added) we note the tentative nature of these conclusions. The relatively small number of births worldwide (300 to 400 babies), and the fact that IVM is "rarely practised" in most countries (p. 3), surely mean that conclusions about the safety of the procedure safety can be nothing other than tentative at this stage.

We conclude, therefore, that it is premature to declare that the risks associated with IVM "fall within a level of risk that is acceptable in New Zealand" as stated by the HART Act. On that basis we think it is still premature to classify the practice as an "established procedure". The use of IVM requires more intense monitoring than is demanded by the classification of a practice as an established procedure. It is our view that IVM should be treated as innovative practice and subjected to a level of ethical review and ongoing oversight that is consistent with the introduction of other innovative health procedures in New Zealand.

We note that ACART is currently seeking further clarification as to whether or not it is an option to treat such a procedure as an innovative Act.

Question 2:
Has ACART identified all the ethical issues relevant to the use of IVM in fertility treatment? Do any of the identified, or any other ethical issues, affect ACART's proposed advice that the use of IVM should be allowed in fertility treatment? If so, how?

(See chapter 5 for a discussion of the ethical issues, and chapter 6 for the proposed advice.)

Aside from issues relating to the safety of the procedure, we do not see that IVM creates any other significant ethical questions not already raised by the use of IVF.

Question 3:
Should the use of IVM in fertility treatment become an established procedure? If not, why, and how should the use of IVM be regulated?

As outlined in Question 1 (above) we think it is premature to classify IVM as an "established procedure".

Question 4:
Should the use of in vitro matured eggs in fertility treatment be limited to the individuals the eggs came from, or should the eggs be able to be donated to others for use in fertility treatment?

We note that a precedent already exists for women to donate their eggs to other women for the purposes of fertility treatment. Our reasons for opposing the donation of eggs by one woman to another are the same as for all other instances of egg donation: the nature of marriage means couples recognise the right to become parents only through each other. We believe strongly that it is also in the interests of a child to be born into a family where its parents are the biological parents.

We understand that egg donation is already allowed in New Zealand under certain circumstances. On the basis that the live birth rate with IVM is significantly less than with conventional eggs, it strikes us that couples would be ill-advised to undertake IVF procedures using donated eggs matured in vitro.