It will “take time” to build up publicly funded fertility services to meet demand from people who will be entitled to use them, an Oireachtas committee has been told.
The Department of Health’s chief medical officer, Dr Tony Holohan, said, despite their best intentions, it would take time to develop capacity in the system to a point where they would like it to be.
Fianna Fáil’s Margaret Murphy O’Mahony said she was concerned that people might be postponing treatment until public funding was available.
Dr Holohan said work was continuing in the department on a proposal for a potential public-funding model for assisted human reproductive treatments.
He said the department would work throughout the year with the HSE to develop a model of care for infertility.
There is no specific legislation governing assisted human reproduction, so people are undergoing complex and sometimes risky procedures in a legal vacuum.
The Government approved the drafting of the Assisted Human Reproduction Bill last October and yesterday the Health Committee examined draft legislation for the first time.
Dr Holohan said they would be in a better position to set a timeframe for implementing the planned legislation when it was discussed by the Cabinet in the next “two to three months”.
He said an implementation committee would ensure that the legislation, service, and eligibility arrangements could proceed in line with each other to allow their “timely” introduction.
Dr Holohan pointed out that assisted human reproduction procedures conducted in fertility clinics in Ireland had risen from 7,589 cycles in 2009 to almost 9,000 in 2016.
“We understand the impact that the issues of infertility and subfertility can have at an individual level,” said Dr Holohan.
Dr Holohan told Sinn Féin’s Louise O’Reilly that the bill was “very clear” that sex selection in assisted human reproduction treatment would only be allowed where there was a significant risk of a child being born with a severe genetic disease.
He said the Assisted Human Reproduction Regulatory Authority, established by the planned legislation, would create and maintain a list of genetic diseases in relation to pre-implantation genetic diagnosis and sex.
“They will have fairly significant powers of inspection and access to information to ensure that all of the practices conform to the requirements of the legislation,” he said.
Fianna Fáil’s Billy Kelleher said the Irish Cancer Society was concerned about the 10-year storage limit for male and female gametes.
The bill proposes that after gametes are stored for 10 years, an extension for further storage time must be sought.
“This would affect childhood cancer patients, who might have to store gametes when they are in their mid-teens and not access them until they’re in their mid-to-late 30s,” said Mr Kelleher.
The national director of the HSE’s National Cancer Control Programme, Dr Jerome Coffey, said they would be working through those issues with the implementation group in the coming months.
The committee intends meeting again in the near future to discuss the draft bill and to hear from providers of assisted human reproduction services. No date has been set yet.