Warning over lack of laws on assisted human reproduction

The Irish Times – Monday, November 21, 2011

by CARL O’BRIEN, Chief Reporter

THE GOVERNMENT’s special rapporteur on child protection has expressed “profound concern” that the State’s failure to legislate for assisted human reproduction is violating vulnerable children’s rights.

Geoffrey Shannon warned that the lack of any regulation means children being born by surrogacy are likely to continue to end up stateless or unable to obtain passports.

“There are huge vulnerabilities in not knowing your status in a country. Unless we set this out clearly, then it simply can’t be in the best interests of any child and is a breach of virtually every international instrument that I know,” he said.

Mr Shannon added there were no procedures to ensure surrogate children were being born into suitable or safe families, unlike the adoption vetting process. The lack of any regulation also meant Ireland was in danger of becoming a “safe haven” for unscrupulous practices associated with assisted reproductive technology.

He raised concern that use of anonymous donor sperm or eggs in IVF clinics meant that hundreds of children may never be able to trace their genetic parents or have access to important genetic information.

Unlike most of Europe, Ireland does not have any laws on assisted human reproduction. This is despite the establishment of a special commission in 2000 which issued a series of recommendation on how the government could legislate in this area. While legislation is planned in the programme for government, officials are unable to say when it is likely any proposed laws will emerge.

Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act indicate the issue is in danger of being pushed back due to pressure on civil servants. A document prepared for the Minister for Health James Reilly states officials only have the resources to focus on either legislation for assisted human reproduction or the introduction of lawful abortion in line with a recent European Court of Human Rights ruling. The Government recently announced it was prioritising plans to legislate for the abortion ruling. A spokesman for Mr Reilly insisted legislation for assisted human reproduction remained a “priority issue”.

Another legal expert, Tony O’Connor SC, said the lack of any law to protect the rights of children, donors or commissioning parents meant there was a major shortage of Irish donor sperm and eggs.

“There’s an understandable reluctance on the part of Irish people to donate gametes or embryos when there is a possibility their identity will be disclosed, even if they have a contract or other assurance,” he said.