Update on The Human Assisted Reproductive Technology (HART) Bill

Nathaniel Centre Staff
Issue 14, November 2004

On 6 August 2004 the Health Select Committee reported to Parliament on the Human Assisted Reproductive Technology Bill 2003. The Bill establishes a legislative framework for controlling human assisted reproductive technology, and fills an eight year gap in which changes in technology and science outstripped attempts to introduce a regulatory framework.

The Select Committee has recommended a number of changes to the Bill. These include significantly strengthening public input by requiring the Ministerial Advisory Committee to carry out public consultation before advising the Minister or issuing guidelines.

In their report the Select Committee has supported the list of prohibited procedures and research, which includes cloning for reproductive purposes, implantation of animal/human hybrid embryos, commercial surrogacy arrangements, and commercial supply of embryos or human gametes (eggs and sperm). The report recommends that the following also be prohibited:

  • selecting an embryo for implantation on the basis of sex unless the action is taken to treat or prevent a genetic disorder
  • collecting or using a gamete from a person under 16 years of age, unless it is for the later use of the person it has been collected from
  • the genetic modification of gametes or embryos for reproductive purposes
  • the use of gametes from foetuses for reproductive purposes

The Select Committee's decision to stay with the original list and to add to it after hearing submissions is important. While the Committee's recommendations will strengthen a number of aspects of the Bill, their report also notes that the Bill will give New Zealand a system which is a "less prescriptive and more flexible" regime than that found in a number of other countries.

From a Catholic perspective there are some welcome alterations to the Bill. In its original form, future decisions about new assisted reproductive technologies would have been made by a Ministerial Advisory Committee, which was not obliged to carry out any form of public consultation. Securing the right to continue to have input on assisted reproduction matters was a strong feature of the Nathaniel Centre's submission.

There are still matters of grave concern in the amended Bill.

  • The destruction of 'spare' embryos is required after storage for 10 years, with an extension needing ethics committee approval.
  • The Bill does not prohibit creating or using embryos for research, or the use of embryos to provide stem cells.
  • The creation of cloned embryos, rather than being prohibited, is a matter on which the Ministerial Advisory Committee is to provide advice to the Minister.
  • Embryos can be cloned or genetically modified, animal-human hybrid embryos created, and embryos created from gametes from a foetus, as long as they are not implanted.

Much of the detailed decision-making will unfold in coming years as the Ministerial Advisory Committee formulates guidelines and advice on matters such as the use of cloned embryos for research, pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, genetic modification of human gametes and embryos, embryo donation and the import and export of gametes and embryos. For this reason it was vital that public participation in future decision-making was guaranteed, as it will be if the changes recommended by the Select Committee are confirmed as part of the Second Reading of the Bill.

As this issue of The Nathaniel Report goes to print, the HART Bill having passed its second reading, is being debated by the Committee of the Whole House.