21 June 2011

Donor Conception

A recent post noted the Senate Committee report on assisted fertility, which included somewhat quixotic comments on the shape of families and the number of sperm donations that should be permissible.

The Victorian Government has ordered an independent review of the management of long-term sperm storage issues, following disagrrement about compliance with statutory requirements that donated gametes must be destroyed after a decade unless the "owner" formally applies for an extension. The framework is provided by the Infertility Treatment Act 1995 (Vic) and the Assisted Reproductive Treatment Act 2008 (Vic). The Royal Women's Hospital is reportedly refusing to destroy several batches of sperm, arguing that it has been having trouble contacting some donors who have moved interstate or overseas and is therefore retaining the sperm beyond the 10 year deadline.

The Hospital has called on the Government to amend the law, witn state Health Minister David Davis commenting [PDF] that harsh and unreasonable outcomes appear to have occurred in instances where it has not been possible to notify the owners -
It appears that the current law is inflexible in not providing for the patient review panel [PRP] to consider extension of the period of time for which sperm may be stored in these circumstances
The review will examine mechanisms to make sure families are treated fairly when the storage deadline is approaching or has passed, consistent with practice such as storage of sperm by young men prior to undergoing cancer treatments.

The review will also examine whether current legal arrangements need to be changed.

It is to be conducted by "experienced administrator and medical practitioner Dr Andrew Perrignon", previously the CEO of Northern Health. His terms of reference are -
1. Practical means to ensure that there is fair treatment for men and women and their families where sperm or other reproductive tissues have been stored and the storage deadline is approaching or has passed.

2. Procedures and mechanisms to reasonably advise those whose sperm is stored within the terms of the current Victorian law.

3. Procedures and arrangements that should be adopted by health services and hospitals to comply with the law while providing reasonable protection for those who have sought their services in good faith.

4. Whether the current legal arrangements and administrative mechanisms in existence in Victoria should be altered to provide a fairer approach consistent with the objectives of the current legislation and with current evidence. Whether any changes should be made to current legislation or administrative arrangements, and if so, what the recommended changes should be.
The Minister might be nonplussed by tabloid journalism in the Melbourne Herald-Sun, which under the headline "Royal Women's Hospital bungle shatters families' baby dreams" states that -
ABOUT 20 Victorian families have had their baby dreams shattered after a hospital bungle.

The Herald Sun can reveal the Royal Women's Hospital must immediately destroy the frozen sperm samples kept illegally due to an administration error.

The hospital has so far defied the order. If the samples are not destroyed, hospital bosses could face up to two years in prison.

Victoria's Patient Review Panel has rejected an 11th-hour bid for more time.

Their only hope now is if the State Government steps in to change laws demanding destruction of the semen.

The State Government and Health Department last night were trying to resolve the heartbreaking dispute, with officials desperately trying to work out if they could alter legislation.