New reproductive laws still discriminatory

Posted on September 5, 2011

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First study to seek views of clinicians and regulators:

Having done away with controversial laws barring single and lesbian women from fertility treatment, Victoria’s revised legislation is likely to cause new problems – both for women and clinicians seeking to help them.

This is revealed in a recent study published in the ‘Journal of Law and Medicine’ by La Trobe University Law School and the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society.

One of the researchers, Dr Kerry Petersen, says the crux of the problem is the ‘extremely prescriptive requirement’ under the new law that women and their partners must undergo formal police and child protection screening before they receive reproductive treatment.

The new legislation, implemented last year, means single and lesbian women no longer need to go interstate to access assisted reproductive technology (ART). However, Dr Petersen says it then placed a hurdle in the way of treatment that does not exist in any other State in Australia – making a difficult choice unnecessarily stressful and bureaucratic.

‘Treatment can already be quite traumatic and expensive,’ she says. ‘This requirement is additionally confronting and upsetting at a time when issues around infertility and finance are already creating many stresses for women.’

No consultation or evidence of greater risk

In the study, clinical staff reported there had been no consultation with them about the need for police and child protection order checks. They said there was also no evidence that children born from ART procedures were more likely to be at risk than the general population, or that people seeking to undergo ART were more likely to have a criminal history. 

The study was the first seeking the views of workers in clinics and regulators about the Victoria’s new ART laws. It is based on in-depth interviews with 17 clinicians, counsellors, scientists, ethicists and regulators.  All supported the changes removing ambiguities under the previous Act, which had resulted in ‘reproductive tourism’ to other States.

However, clinical staff saw the new Act as having a ‘discriminatory effect on people using ART services compared with people who can have children without using these services’.

‘As a result, people using ART services in Victoria will be subjected to scrutiny that does not exist in any other State of Australia. How this affects potential patients and service providers will need to be closely monitored,’ the study concluded.

The full report is available in the Journal of Law and Medicine, 2011, 18, 835-850