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Same-sex couples to get better access to fertility treatment

Dr. Kirsty Horsey

Progress Educational Trust

20 August 2004

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[BioNews, London] Gay and lesbian couples in the UK will get easier access to fertility treatments following a review of the existing law governing the area, it is reported. The 1990 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act is currently under review by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, whose comments will feed into a second review and consultation, due to be undertaken next year by the Department of Health (DH).

According to an article in the UK's Observer newspaper, the DH is apparently planning to make the changes to the law in light of the Civil Partnerships bill, which is currently passing through parliament, and 'changes in societal attitudes' since the 1990 Act was passed. Currently, the law states that fertility doctors should make treatment decisions taking into account the welfare of the child to be born, including the 'need of a child for a father'. Many clinics have refused to provide fertility treatments to lesbian couples on this basis.

However, the passage of the Civil Partnerships bill would mean for the first time that lesbian and gay couples wishing to have their relationship legally recognised could apply to do so. Entering a formal 'civil partnership' will give same-sex couples similar rights and responsibilities to those currently enjoyed by married couples. What this means, suggests the DH, is that other legislation drawn up with heterosexual couples in mind may also need updating.

The Observer reported that a DH submission to the Commons Committee review panel claims that changes in the way the law is framed could lead to legislation that can 'better recognise the wider range of people who seek and receive assisted reproduction treatment in the 21st century'. Professor Alison Murdoch, chair of the British Fertility Society, said that she favoured extending the provision of fertility services to same-sex couples. 'We have to stand back from it and say, what is the evidence that there is any harm to anybody from them having a child', she said. She added: 'Children need to be brought up in a loving, caring environment - it's the loving care that's important, not the sexuality of the parent'.

Single women and lesbian couples in Victoria, Australia, will now be able to inseminate themselves thanks to a loophole in the law found by Victoria's Infertility Treatment Authority (ITA) and Melbourne IVF. While clinical reproductive services in Victoria are legally limited to women who are 'medically infertile' (rather than 'socially infertile'), allowing women to take screened sperm samples home from clinics for self-insemination does not breach the prohibition. Dr John McBain, chairman of Melbourne IVF, said 'It is not a reproductive service if we're not performing it'. If self-insemination has failed four times, then the woman can be classed as medically infertile and can receive full access to IVF procedures.

© Copyright Progress Educational Trust

Reproduced with permission from BioNews, an email and online sources of news, information and comment on assisted reproduction and genetics.

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Date Added: 20 August 2004   Date Updated: 13 September 2004
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