For one of my final assignments this term, I analyzed the Assisted Human Reproduction Act, which regulates artificial fertilization, surrogacy, and sperm/ova donation. The Assisted Human Reproduction Act is a contentious topic, one that the previous federal government avoided. Canada only has four sperm banks, all in Ontario, and faces a shortage of altruistic sperm donations. However, I recently read an article in The Toronto Star about the possibility for commercialization of gamete donation in Canada. Current practices don’t always comply with Canadian Regulations, are not strict enough to safeguard Canadians who use gamete donors, and therefore pose public health concerns. These ethical and legal challenges need to be addressed.
The national shortage of sperm donation means that Canadians rely on foreign sperm banks. For instance, many people in need of sperm donations import them from the United States. Imported sperm donations are often paid for, even though the Act prohibits compensation for sperm/ova donations. Licensing of importers was initially included in the Act, but was deemed unconstitutional in 2010. The case of a U.S. donor who was improperly screened, but was used as a donor for ten children in Canada, has raised alarms about gaps in the Assisted Human Reproduction Act’s regulatory framework. Health Canada does not inspect imported sperm, and instead requires the importers of donor sperm to report any concerns about infectious disease. Foreign sperm banks do not always follow Canadian regulations or meet Canadian screening standards, posing a threat of exposure to infectious disease and causing concern for people who use donor sperm to have children.
Proponents of commercialization of sperm donation argue that it will combat the current shortage and increase donations. However, others challenge this view and argue that legalizing compensation for gamete donations leads to a slippery slope, as it could lead to commercialization of organ and tissue donations as well. This type of commodification of reproduction has the potential to lead to exploitation. Hence, the issues that need to be addressed are whether the donor shortage can be addressed by closing the loopholes that allow for unregulated import of sperm donations and if payment for donation should be permitted in Canada. In order to clarify and strengthen the regulations pertaining to the Assisted Human Reproduction Act, the federal government was accepting recommendations for regulatory changes up until recently. We will have to wait to see where Canada will go from here.