Fertility experts treated as ‘window dressing’ during discussions on IVF

Fertility experts have accused the Department of Health of leaving them on the sidelines in discussions about long-awaited rules on assisted human reproduction.

Professionals working in reproductive medicine who attended a meeting at the department last summer were shocked that plans for the proposed legislation were at such an advanced stage.

Irish Fertility Society president John Waterstone said the meeting was merely a “window dressing” exercise.

Dr Waterstone, the medical director of the Cork Fertility Centre, said the society wrote to the department last November expressing their concern about the situation.

“We are frustrated. We feel that having waited so long for the legislation there is really no excuse for not seeking our views,” he said.

“The letter was merely acknowledged. We don’t want window dressing; we want to be involved so the department knows the problems and the concerns of the IVF community.”

In February last year, the cabinet gave Health Minister Leo Varadkar outline approval for legislation proposals on assisted human reproduction. He admitted there was little chance of legislation becoming law in the lifetime of the government.

The bill would provide a regulatory framework for a range of practices for the first time, including surrogacy, embryo donation and screening, sperm and egg donation, and stem cell research.

A department spokesperson said yesterday that drafting of the general scheme of a bill for assisted human reproduction is ongoing.

Dr Waterstone said scientists in Britain who had kept human embryos alive outside of the womb for more than 13 days could potentially increase understanding about the early stages of human embryo development.

He pointed out that during routine IVF treatment, embryos are not kept in an artificial environment any longer than the blastocyst stage — day five or six.

“At that stage, the human embryo, normally in nature, would implant inside a womb,” he explained. “Even then, sometimes it can be a struggle because you are keeping them in an artificial environment. We really want to get them into the womb as soon as we can.”

The work by two teams of researchers in Britain and the US puts scientists into direct conflict with a decades-old law that prohibits donated embryos from being grown in a laboratory for more than two weeks.

Andrea Mulligan, a lecturer in law and bioethics at Trinity College Dublin, said that, in theory, scientists in Ireland could do anything with an embryo because the area is unregulated.

“We are caught by general European legislation for the quality and traceability of human cells, but there is no specific regulation of embryos in this country,” Ms Mulligan told RTÉ radio.

She pointed out that 14 days is the “international ethical rule”, based on a ‘primitive streak’, or structural change seen when the embryo becomes individualised. “Ultimately, embryos would generally be destroyed after research because they would not be considered viable,” she said.

The Pro Life Campaign said while some of these procedures do not necessarily involve the deliberate destruction of the human embryo, it is important to remember everyone was once a human embryo and that the dignity and human rights of every human being should be respected and protected.


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