Assisted Human Reproduction: The New Zealand Situation

Nathaniel Centre Staff
Issue 1, August 2000

Assisted human reproductive technology refers to medical activities, which assist people to conceive and have children. It includes methods currently in use, such as in vitro fertilisation and surrogacy, together with methods which may be possible in the future, such as cloning.

A number of ethical and moral issues related to human embryos have arisen from advances in assisted human reproduction. These include the use and creation of embryos for research purposes, the storage and ownership of embryos, and the use of embryos as a source of stem cells.

Some countries overseas, for example Canada and the United Kingdom have introduced legislation relating to human assisted reproductive technology. In New Zealand there is no legislation at present, although there are research guidelines used by bodies such as the National Ethics Committee on Human Assisted Reproduction (NECAHR), the Gene Technology Advisory Committee (GTAC), and the Health Research Council Ethics Committee. Two bills are currently before the Parliamentary Health Select Committee, which is yet to hear submissions on them and is due to report to Parliament in November 2000.

The first of these bills is the Human Assisted Reproductive Technology Bill, a Private Members Bill introduced by Dianne Yates in 1997. The bill covers the licensing of fertility clinics; the use of gametes and embryos; the keeping of and access to centralised records of sperm and egg donation, and embryo creation and destruction; the banning of the commercialisation or sale of body parts, blood, embryos, foetal tissue, foetuses and babies; and the prevention of cloning. It is modeled on British, Canadian and Australian legislation.

The second bill was introduced in 1998 by then Minister of Health, Bill English, and is entitled the Assisted Human Reproduction Bill. It provides for the establishment of the National Ethics Committee on Assisted Reproduction (NECAHR is currently established by the Minister of Health rather than by legislation); the collection, retention and access to information about donors of gametes and children born as a result of such donations; and the prohibition of certain activities, such as human cloning and payment for donation of eggs, sperm or embryos.

Keeping pace with research and differences in the definition of human cloning have made this type of legislation particularly difficult to draft, and subject to public controversy. In Britain, for example, researchers are seeking to use embryonic cloning as a source of stem cells to treat conditions such as Parkinson's disease and Alzheimers disease. Government plans to lift a ban on embryonic cloning brought forth vigorous opposition from pro-life groups.

In future editions of The Nathaniel Report we will look into the ethical and moral issues associated with assisted human reproductive technology in more detail.