Tuesday 16 March 2010

Unintended consequences: assisted reproductive technologies edition

Surprise surprise, if you ban trade in gametes, you create a shortage and you get a whole lot of folks lying to their physicians about the provenance of acquired materials.
At the same time as reproductive technologies stretch the notion of the family beyond the nuclear, and just as Canada bends to accommodate that evolution, a prevailing piece of federal legislation is being accused of inadvertently forcing a slew of prospective parents underground.

At the root of this underworld, some argue, is the 2004 Assisted Human Reproduction Act -- the Canadian government’s most comprehensive attempt to regulate reproductive technologies. Some onlookers fear that the legislation has created a secretive black market, where couples seek sperm and egg donors on Craigslist or in university libraries.

Where those couples quietly compensate donors for their gametes, despite the legislation that criminalizes doing so. Where lesbian couples lie to doctors about their sexual orientation to avoid paying to quarantine a friend’s sperm for six months. And where doctors and counsellors sometimes adopt the credo of “Don’t ask, Don’t tell.”

The act -- which is a result of the Royal Commission on New Reproductive Technologies in 1993 -- has triggered condemnation from the right and left, and was the focal point of an International Women’s Day conference in Toronto last week. There, at the Law Society of Upper Canada, panellists argued that some of the legislation does more to imperil and confuse prospective parents and their offspring than it does to protect them.
Legalizing trade would be a great first step. Next would be credible enforcement of whatever contracts vendor and customer want enforced: some or no access for vendor; completely anonymous or not; some or no potential for child support payments from the vendor. The latter one seems reasonably important in avoiding a lemons market where only those with no resources available for later forced transfer are willing to become vendors.

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