Fertility Services

03/11/2005

3 November 2005

Standards New Zealand is developing a Fertility Services Standard and Audit Workbook.

MANY PEOPLE PLAN TO HAVE CHILDREN at some point in their lives, and many assume that they will be able to conceive without trouble when they are ready.

In New Zealand, and around the developed world, people are now having children later. The average age for New Zealand women giving birth is now 30 years, compared with 25 years in 1975. New Zealand women are also averaging two children each - not enough for the population to replace itself.

Long-term, the changing birth patterns of the developed world, combined with ongoing scientific advances, may lead to significant changes in the way we approach childbirth and fertility.

“There’s a strong demographic shift occurring,” comments Karin Zentveld, Project Manager at Standards New Zealand. “And in this context the implications of fertility treatment and the Human Assisted Reproductive Technology Act become even more relevant and far reaching.”

HART Act
The New Zealand Human Assisted Reproductive Technology Act (the HART Act) was passed in 2004 and came into full effect in August 2005. The Act sets a new framework for the use and future development of reproductive technologies.

Under the HART Act, “fertility services” means services performed for the purpose of assisting human reproduction that involves:

  1. The creation of an in vitro human embryo; or
  2. The storage, manipulation, or use of an in vitro human gamete or an in vitro human embryo; or
  3. The use of cells derived from an in vitro human embryo; or
  4. The implantation in a human being of human gametes or human  embryos.

HART Register
One aspect of the HART Act is a new register for donors and donor offspring. People conceived from donated embryos, sperm or eggs will have the chance to find out about their genetic origins.

The Registrar-General of Births, Deaths and Marriages will hold information on all donor conceived children, the donors, and information provided voluntarily about earlier donors and donor-conceived children.

It will allow future donors and their offspring to find out about each other, and will also give people involved in earlier donor treatments the chance to do the same if all parties give consent.

For more information see: www.moh.govt.nz

Fertility Services Standard and Audit Workbook
Protecting and strengthening safety for New Zealand fertility service consumers is the drive behind developing the Fertility Services Standard and Audit Workbook. The documents will also implement the requirements of the HART Act. The Ministry of Health has contracted Standards New Zealand to work with the health sector to develop the Standard and Workbook.

“Our Standards development processes are well proven, transparent and consensusbased,” says Karin. “Clearly on such an important issue, it’s crucial to work with a range of health sector organisations and to consult with the public to reach a balanced, ethical, and practical Standards solution. Standards New Zealand specialises in bringing together key organisations to develop appropriate and effective documents for the sector, which enhance safety and quality for consumers.”

International Issues
The debate around reproductive technologies is often emotionally charged. In Italy, a June referendum on fertility treatment and research became a battleground between doctors, the Catholic Church, and high profile celebrities including actress Monica Bellucci. Until two years ago, Italy was known as a virtually unrestricted environment for fertility treatment. Several cases emerged during the 1990s including one where a doctor assisted a 62-year old woman to give birth. But now it has some of Europe’s most conservative fertility laws, brought in last year to rein in the free-for-all. The law stops sperm and egg donation, and bans screening embryos for disease. It also limits the number of embryos created for each fertility treatment to three, all of which have to be implanted at the same time.

The referendum to repeal the laws then became a national debate. The Catholic Church and associated groups wanted the law to stand, and called for a boycott so the minimum vote needed couldn’t be reached. It was supported by a group of doctors who went on strike, and by Monica Bellucci, who proclaimed: “What do politicians and priests know about my ovaries?”

In the end, the referendum didn’t meet the minimum vote level, and the law, for now, stands. The number of infertile couples seeking help abroad has tripled since the law was approved. Italy already has one of Europe’s lowest birth rates.