Improving access to donor sperm, eggs and surrogacy will help more LGBTQ+ couples build their families. As Pride celebrations sweep across the northern hemisphere summer, the Canadian government is considering amendments to the Assisted Human Reproduction Act (AHRA) that will benefit the LGBTQ+ community.
As a fertility doctor, I know that having children is important to LGBTQ" couples. However, many require the help of a fertility clinic to obtain donor sperm or eggs. As it presently stands, it is illegal to pay, offer to pay or advertise payment for sperm, eggs or surrogacy services.
Under the AHRA of 2004, any compensation beyond reasonable expenditures is considered a criminal offence punishable by 10 years in prison and a C$500,000 (about R5.2-million) fine. Canada's government has yet to clearly define what constitutes a legitimate expense, leading many doctors and legal experts to criticise the Act.
The intention of sections 6 and 7 of the Act was to prevent commercialisation of donors and surrogates in Canada. In reality, the criminalisation of potential donors has led to a complete lack of egg and sperm donors willing to provide their reproductive material for free. Donor sperm and donor egg banks are virtually non-existent in Canada. Surrogacy services are only available through recruiting agencies that operate in a "grey area" of the Act.
To be clear, using a donor egg, donor sperm or a surrogate mother is not illegal in Canada. Paymentfor these services is.
The bottom line is that unless you have an altruistic friend or family member willing to act as a donor or surrogate, LGBTQ+ couples that want a baby must look outside the country.
There are many ways to build a family. For LGBTQ+ couples, decriminalising compensation for third-party reproduction would provide better, more affordable access to donor sperm, donor egg and surrogacy services.
Lesbian couples and single women can order anonymous donor sperm online through sperm banks based in the United States. The sperm is shipped to Canadian fertility clinics frozen in liquid nitrogen containers. It is then thawed one vial at a time to be used for intrauterine insemination (IUI) or in vitro fertilisation (IVF). The average cost for a vial of sperm is about C$1,000 (about R10,350).
Women using a known donor through a fertility clinic are subject to a mandatory 180-day sperm quarantine period while the donor is cleared for infectious diseases. This appears to violate a woman's autonomy to choose her donor, and it is suspected that Health Canada may soon remove the need for quarantine.
Gay men can obtain frozen donor eggs from banks in the U.S. The eggs are shipped to Canada and fertilised with sperm using IVF to create embryos. These men would also have the additional requirement of finding an altruistic surrogate (gestational carrier). Donor eggs can cost C$18,000 (about R186,000) or more.
MP Anthony Housefather introduced a private members Bill to the House of Commons on May 29 2018. He is seeking decriminalisation of surrogacy services and consideration of reasonable compensation for egg and sperm donation in Canada.
There are many ways to build a family. For LGBTQ+ couples, decriminalising compensation for third-party reproduction would provide better, more affordable access to donor sperm, donor egg and surrogacy services. Canadian legislation can do more to recognise that families come in all shapes and sizes.
To all the LGBTQ+ families out there, happy Pride!