Assisted Reproductive Treatment Amendment Bill 2012 (16.04.2013)

Written on the 22 April 2013

I am pleased to be able to rise and speak on the Assisted Reproductive Treatment Amendment Bill 2012. In doing so I highlight that for many people this bill is a very important step that will provide them with certainty in relation to the extension of gametes storage, as was highlighted by the Perrignon review into embryo storage.


For many people who have been affected by a serious illness such as cancer and are confronting those issues planning for a family is perhaps not foremost in their minds, and therefore they may consider a 10-year period to be a long time frame. However, that time can come around very quickly. I think this bill will address many of those issues in relation to those time frames as well as providing certainty to those clinics and, as I said, those people that it will affect.


This bill seeks to amend the Assisted Reproduction Treatment Act 2008 to make changes to the laws surrounding storage of gametes and embryos and make a significant difference, as I said, to many people. The bill will do this by implementing the recommendations arising from the report commissioned by the Minister for Health that was conducted by Dr Andrew Perrignon.


As I said, that report primarily focused on the storage of gametes, both sperm and ovum, but found that similar issues applied to the storage of embryos and that many of the issues surrounding those aspects can be applied here.


I was pleased that the Royal Women's Hospital in its statement following the announcement by the minister supported the review by Dr Perrignon. In that statement the hospital says:


The Royal Women's Hospital looks forward to working with Dr Perrignon to resolve the unintended consequences from the act for the benefit of Victorian families.
I think that is what this legislation does. When the act was first formulated the consequences we have subsequently found were unintended.


The problem with the act is that it provides that human embryos and gametes must not be stored for longer than 10 years without the permission of the Patient Review Panel. Section 31 of the Assisted Reproduction Treatment Amendment Act 2008 prohibits the storage of gametes for more than 10 years unless the permission of the Patient Review Panel has been sought. Unfortunately the Patient Review Panel has strictly interpreted section 31 of the act and determined that the limit of 10 years is absolute and that any application for an extension of storage time must be made by the patient before the 10 years is up. Contacting those patients to enable that to occur has sometimes proved to be very difficult. Section 33 of the Assisted Reproductive Treatment Act 2008 also contains a limit on the storage of embryos, but it is a five-year limit. As I said earlier, this has had undesirable consequences when the facility or institution storing the patient's matter cannot be contacted.


There are many clinics still holding embryos and gametes because they have not wanted to risk the consequences of disposing of the material and destroying any chance of those young people to have a family. At present there are a number of both males and females who will be impacted by the laws as they currently stand. It also means that a significant stockpile of gametes is being stored. This bill will put a stop to that scenario and remedy the unforeseen consequences of the previous act.


As I mentioned earlier, once this issue was raised with the minister he undertook to commission an independent review which was conducted by Dr Andrew Perrignon, an accomplished general practitioner and formerly CEO of Northern Health.


Dr Perrignon was asked to look at practical means to ensure 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; procedures and mechanisms to reasonably advise those whose sperm is stored within the terms of the current Victorian law; 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; 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; and whether any changes should be made to current legislation or administrative arrangements, and, if so, what the recommended changes should be. Dr Perrignon undertook that review and there was significant consultation with a number of major clinics that provide gamete storage services, including Melbourne IVF, Monash IVF, the Royal Women's Hospital andrology unit, City Fertility Clinic and Ballarat IVF. In doing so I believe that input was also sought from a number of patients and families who were going to be affected by the review. The review found that there needed to be improvements to policies and procedures as well as application processes surrounding these issues to ensure that those who deposit gametes, as well as their partners and families, are dealt with much better when storage deadlines arise. It also found there needed to be better communication.


The bill also enables improved governance arrangements for the Patient Review Panel to ensure it can perform its statutory functions and operate more efficiently. In doing so there have been a number of changes proposed for the panel.


I note the concern of Mr Jennings around one person on the member panel making some of those decisions. But time is critical when you are dealing with gametes about which storage decisions need to be made. In relation to those storage-sensitive issues, clause 11 of the bill makes it clear that the effect of these amendments will be to allow the Patient Review Panel to operate more flexibly and efficiently -- for example, the amendments will allow the Patient Review Panel to be constituted by a single member in order to determine time-sensitive extension of storage period applications as expeditiously as possible.


Time is critical and it was thought that this was a much more efficient way of doing things and that it would give more certainty to people who would be affected by those changes. I am sure the minister will answer in more detail during the committee stage of the bill if that question arises. This is a fairly common-sense position for the panel to take, especially around the time-sensitive components.


As mentioned earlier, the bill also extends the storage period for gametes from 10 to 20 years in circumstances where the sample has been sourced from a young adult and where it has been certified by a doctor that due to health reasons and medical implications that person may be medically infertile from their treatment. It will also provide more latitude for clinics storing gametes and embryos to allow them a three-month grace period to destroy the samples in storage after the storage expiration period has arrived


The flaws of the previous legislation have been identified and those concerns have been dealt with.


16.04.2013The bill goes a long way to providing certainty for those young people who perhaps through the unintended consequences of having medical treatment and becoming infertile can have some improved certainty through the storage of their gametes should they consider having a family in future years. It gives more certainty to the clinics that are operating in this field. I again congratulate and commend Dr Perrignon on the review that he undertook and for the input from all those who provided that information. I commend the bill to the house.

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