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VLRC: Arguing ART access

Every Issue

Cite as: (2004) 78(7) LIJ, p.86

The VLRC is currently consulting individuals and groups with interests in the issues surrounding eligibility for assisted reproduction and adoption.

Should we regulate who has access to assisted reproductive technology (ART)? This question is at the heart of a current Victorian Law Reform Commission (VLRC) reference into ART and adoption.

The VLRC has commenced the public consultation phase of its inquiry into eligibility for assisted reproduction and adoption. The VLRC is seeking feedback from the community on the issues raised in its consultation paper: Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) and Adoption: Should the current eligibility criteria in Victoria be changed?

This reference focuses on two principal questions: whether single and lesbian women should have access to clinic-based ART, and who should be regarded as the legal parents of children born into same-sex families as a result of ART. The reference also addresses the eligibility of same-sex couples to adopt children, and some specific aspects of the law that deal with surrogacy arrangements.

The VLRC has an inclusive approach to law reform and is committed to consulting widely with people who may be affected by proposed reforms, and with individuals and organisations who have expertise in the area. In accordance with this approach, the VLRC has developed a consultation plan in its ART reference that is designed to enable a broad range of interests to be involved in the process.

The VLRC has already met with a number of individuals and groups affected by or interested in the current state of the law in this area.

On 18 May 2004 the VLRC held a consultation session for key stakeholders, including members of the lesbian and gay community, doctors and counsellors involved in providing ART services, representatives from the donor conception and adoption communities, religious groups, psychologists, social researchers, academics and lawyers.

The session commenced with a presentation by Felicity Hampel SC on the current state of the law and several options for reform. After the presentation the audience broke into groups to examine a case study, which gave participants an opportunity to explore some of the issues in greater depth. Notwithstanding the diversity of often very passionately held views represented at the session, participants were respectful of each other’s beliefs, and there was some fruitful preliminary discussion of the issues.

Some of the principal themes that emerged on the day were:

  • the benefits to all parties involved in the process of ART of having access to clinic-based treatment, in particular the safeguards against transmission of diseases, the availability of compulsory counselling and a system enabling children to trace their biological origins;
  • the importance of counselling for all of the parties involved in donor conception, and a suggestion that there ought to be ongoing counselling after the child is born;
  • the need of donor-conceived children to be able to access information about, and to have the opportunity to meet their biological parents;
  • the shift in attitudes towards donor conception, the increasing willingness of parents to discuss the method of their children’s conception and of donors to be identified and involved;
  • the difficulty of determining what makes a good parent and a scepticism about the state’s capacity to make such decisions;
  • the need for the Register of Births to keep accurate records about a child’s biological origins and to provide a means for recording a child’s legal/social parents on the birth certificate;
  • the inappropriateness of treating doctors being solely responsible for making decisions about who should be eligible for ART;
  • the potential to adopt an inclusive process with guiding principles, instead of a process that excludes certain classes of women.

The VLRC is now in the process of convening a series of expert round table meetings to consider specific issues such as regulatory models, surrogacy and the rapidly changing technology in ART. The VLRC also has the benefit of a wide range of expert perspectives available to it via its advisory committee. The committee, which has been expanded since the publication of the consultation paper, comprises a judge, a children’s rights advocate, a philosopher, a specialist IVF doctor, a family lawyer, a legal academic, a public health expert, an industry regulator and a doctor who specialises in gay and lesbian health issues.

Acknowledging some gaps in its knowledge, the VLRC has commissioned research papers on the following topics:

  • an overview of studies on outcomes for children born as a result of ART and/or into different family types;
  • the implications of the Convention on the Rights of the Child for law and policy in relation to ART and surrogacy;
  • a review of interstate and international legislative arrangements for ART and surrogacy.

Contact the VLRC
Submissions in response to the consultation paper were due by 30 June 2004, however, the VLRC will continue to meet with key stakeholders and seek voices it thinks may be missing from the debate.


Contributed by the VICTORIAN LAW REFORM COMMISSION. For further information or a copy of the consultation paper, tel 8619 8619 or visit the website http://www.lawreform.vic.gov.au.

viclawreform@liv.asn.au

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