Assisted Human Reproduction Canada
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Assisted Human Reproduction Canada (AHRC) is a federal regulatory agency that was established in 2006 to protect and promote the health, safety, dignity and rights of Canadians who use or are born of assisted human reproduction technologies. AHRC is also responsible for fostering an environment in which ethical principles are applied in all matters related to assisted human reproduction, while supporting scientific advances that benefit Canadians. The agency is led by a President and governed by the Board of Directors, who were appointed by the Governor in Council in December 2006. The final head of the agency was President Dr. Elinor Wilson, who served from February 14, 2007 until September 30, 2012.
The Federal Budget of March 2012 made two references to AHRC:
- The Government will introduce legislation to wind down Assisted Human Reproduction Canada, with final closure of operations by March 31, 2013. The winding down of the Agency responds to the 2010 ruling of the Supreme Court of Canada that significantly reduced the federal role in assisted human reproduction. Health Canada will take over responsibility for any remaining federal functions such as compliance and enforcement, and outreach.
- Savings will also be achieved through organizational simplification. The Government will introduce legislation to wind down Assisted Human Reproduction Canada and will integrate it within Health Canada. A standalone agency for this reduced role is no longer justified. Health Canada will assume responsibility for compliance and enforcement related to federal responsibilities, and outreach activities.
Roles and responsibilities
AHRC's responsibilities are set out in the Assisted Human Reproduction Act (AHR Act). The Agency's essential functions include:
- Issuing and reviewing licences under the AHR Act
- Carrying out inspections and enforcement related to activities prohibited or controlled under the AHR Act
- Collecting, analysing and managing health reporting information relating to controlled activities
- Providing information to the public and professions on AHR and other matters under the Act, including risk factors associated with infertility
- Providing advice to the Minister of Health on issues relating to assisted human reproduction
- Monitoring and evaluating scientific and clinical developments within Canada and internationally on AHR and other matters to which the Act applies
- Consulting persons and organizations within Canada and internationally
- Maintains relationships with key international bodies with an interest in the quality, safety and ethical practices of fertility procedures.
Assisted Human Reproduction Canada was established as a Departmental Corporation (Schedule II under the Financial Administration Act) and reports to Parliament through the Minister of Health. AHRC is governed by a Board of Directors of up to 13 members, including the Chairperson and the President. Board members are appointed by the Governor in Council.
The Board of Directors is responsible for the overall management of AHRC, including:
- Providing advice to the Minister of Health on matters related to assisted human reproduction
- The approval of AHRC’s goals and operational policies
- The approval of AHRC’s budget
- The evaluation of AHRC’s performance
By law, the Board of Directors must meet at least twice a year.
The Assisted Human Reproduction Act
The Assisted Human Reproduction Act respecting assisted human reproduction and related research is one of the most comprehensive pieces of legislation in the world concerning reproductive technologies and related research. It was introduced and passed in 2004 and was fully in force by 2007.
Health Canada is responsible for developing policy related to assisted human reproduction and regulations under the Assisted Human Reproduction Act. AHRC's role is to oversee the implementation of the Act and associated regulations.
The AHR Act was meant to provide Canadians with a system of licensing, monitoring, inspection and enforcement of activities relating to AHR in order to protect and promote Canadians’ health, safety and values. It identifies prohibited activities, as well as controlled activities, which are AHR activities that can be performed in Canada, but require a licence and adherence to the regulations. However, a 2010 Supreme Court case that ruled that certain sections of the Act exceeded the federal government's legislative power means that the scope of the Act's regulatory framework is significantly reduced (see below).
On December 22, 2010 the Supreme Court of Canada rendered an opinion that deemed some sections of the Assisted Human Reproduction Act unconstitutional. The advisory opinion, ruled that these sections, listed below, exceeded the legislative jurisdiction of the Parliament of Canada pursuant to the Constitution Act, 1867.
- 10,11,13: Certain provisions regarding controlled activities
- 14-18: Certain provisions regarding privacy and access to information
- 40(2), 40(3), 40(3.1), 40(4), 40(5), 44(2), 44(3): Certain provisions regarding administration
Prohibited activities, defined in sections 5 to 9 of the Act, are AHR activities that Parliament has determined to be ethically unacceptable or incompatible with Canadian values, or to pose significant risks to the health, safety and values of Canadians. These activities are not allowed in Canada. Prohibitions include:
- Creating an in vitro embryo for any purpose other than creating a human being or improving or providing instruction in assisted reproduction procedures
- Human cloning.
- Pre-selecting or increasing the probability that an embryo will be a particular sex (except to prevent a sex-linked genetic condition).
- Transplanting a sperm, egg, embryo or foetus of a non-human life form into a human being, or using a sperm, egg, or in vitro embryo that was transplanted into a non-human life form to create a human being
- Creating a hybrid for the purpose of reproduction, or transplanting a hybrid into a human being or non-human life form
- Creating a chimera for any purpose, or transplanting a chimera into a human being or non-human life form
- Using gametes or in vitro embryos without the consent of the donor of the gametes or embryo
- Obtaining gametes from a person under 18 years of age (except for own use preservation purposes)
- Paying, offering to pay, or advertising payment for sperm, eggs or in vitro embryos from donors or for the services of surrogate mothers (including payment to a third party for arranging for the services of a surrogate mother)
This last prohibition prevents the "commercialization" of human reproduction in Canada. While the Act currently allows donors and surrogate mothers to be reimbursed for legitimate expenses, Health Canada is developing specific regulations about what constitutes a legitimate expenditure.
Controlled activities, set out in sections 10 to 12 of the Act, are AHR activities permitted if performed in accordance with regulations and by a licensed clinic or individual in licensed premises. However, section 10, which addressed the "use of human reproductive material," and section 11, which addressed "transgenics," were ruled ultra vires. Section 12, which addresses the "reimbursement of expenditures" for providing gametes and surrogacy services, is still in force.
In 1989, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney founded the Royal Commission on New Reproductive Technologies. Commissioners spent four years examining assisted human reproduction (AHR) activities in Canada. They heard from 40,000 Canadians, including doctors, medical organizations, patients and other interested parties, before issuing their final report, “Proceed with Care,” in 1993. The report called on the Government of Canada to ban activities such as payment for sperm or eggs, commercial surrogacy and human cloning. It also recommended the establishment of an independent regulatory body to govern permissible AHR activities.
On March 29, 2004, Bill C-6, the Assisted Human Reproduction Act received Royal Assent and became law. Provisions of the Act come into force on the day fixed by order of the Governor in Council. The provisions relating to the prohibitions (sections 5 to 9) and the controlled activities are in force (except for section 12 relating to reimbursement of AHR related expenditures.)
Assisted Human Reproduction Canada was established on January 12, 2006 to administer the Assisted Human Reproduction Act. On December 21, 2006, the Minister of Health announced the appointment of a new President, a Chairperson and members of the Board of Directors. The President took office on February 14, 2007.
On March 29, 2012, during the federal budget announcement, it was announced that Assisted Human Reproduction Canada would be closed.
- "Organization Profile - Assisted Human Reproduction Canada". Privy Council Office. Retrieved 2010-03-07.
- Reference re Assisted Human Reproduction Act, 2010 SCC 61, (2010) 3 S.C.R. 457
- Nielson, Laura, "Royal Commission on New Reproductive Technologies", The Canadian Encyclopedia,
- Royal Commission on New Reproductive Technologies, "Proceed With Care: Final Report", Ottawa: Minister of Government Services Canada, Ottawa, 1993. (Summary)