Assisted reproduction is governed by the Human Assisted Reproduction Act 2004. Under this act fertility clinics can provide treatments that are described on a list of established procedures without seeking any form of external approval. If the treatment is prohibited under the act, then it cannot be offered.
A third group of treatments require approval before they can proceed. In these cases clinics make an application to the Ethics Committee on Assisted Reproductive Technology (ECART). If the Advisory Committee on Assisted Reproductive Technology (ACART) has issued guidelines about this treatment then ECART can consider the application. If guidelines have not been issued then the application is referred to ACART, which can make one of three decisions:
- Decide the treatment should not be allowed. In this case the application is declined. The treatment may be approved or prohibited in the future.
- Develop guidelines, which are then issued to ECART. The application is considered by ECART and either approved, deferred or declined.
- Advise that the treatment should go on the list of established procedures, which means it can proceed.
Access to information
The Human Assisted Reproduction Technology Register holds information about donors, donor children, and parents or guardians provided by fertility clinics. Only gamete (sperm or egg) donations made after 20 August 2005 that result in birth are required by law to be recorded. People involved in fertility treatments prior to this can be recorded voluntarily, and can place restrictions on their information.
Generally, only people recorded on the register can access information. Donor children must be aged 18 or over – before this their parents or guardians can obtain information on their behalf. Donor children must give written consent before information about them is given to a donor. Donors who made donations after 20 August 2005 cannot restrict the release of information about them to donor children, but are advised when this information is given.
Secrecy is not encouraged by fertility clinics. One reason for this is the cultural importance in New Zealand, particularly for Māori, of making genealogical information available to children born of this process. Another reason is for the psychological and emotional wellbeing of offspring. While donors are not legally liable for any children produced, they are sometimes known to their children and included in their lives.
Grief without legacy
A woman describing the grief associated with infertility said, ‘I came to a real recognition at the time my father died, how sad I was. But a lot of the grief was bound up with also being infertile. It is one thing to deal with grief if you have the sense that you knew that person and you still have what they have given you. The difference with infertility is that it’s grief without legacy.’1
Infertility can cause feelings of guilt, sadness and grief. For some people, fertility treatments can be undignified, embarrassing, invasive, time-consuming and stressful. The main support group for people in these situations is Fertility New Zealand (FNZ), which was established in 1990. FNZ provides members with information about infertility and fertility treatments, runs regional support and contact groups, and lobbies central government for improved access to treatment. Fertility clinics also provide clients with counselling services.
Another support group is NZ Surrogacy. This online group is made up of surrogate mothers, intended parents, egg and sperm donors, and couples experiencing in-vitro fertilisation and adoption. It provides members with information and support, and gives them an opportunity to share their experiences about infertility and donation.