March 29, 2006 was the second anniversary of the passage into law of Canada's Assisted Human Reproduction (AHR) Act, an Act marking the culmination of years of hard work by many thoughtful Canadians of diverse perspectives.
What should have been a time for celebration, however, remained instead a time for concern, if not dismay, at the continuing failure of real implementation of this Act. After well over a decade of waiting for legislation that would protect the physical, emotional, and social health of the women and children who use-or result from the use of-the expanding range of reproductive technologies, we are still waiting for the setting up of the Assisted Human Reproduction Agency, the regulations, and the enforcing mechanisms the Act mandates.
When the AHR Act was passed in March 2004, Canada was seen by many as a world leader in woman- and childcentered regulation of reproductive medicine, with many groups in the United States and elsewhere looking here for a model of leadership and principled governance. As time passes, however, Health Canada is increasingly being perceived as having good intentions, but failing in its commitments to the women and children whose health and safety were promised protection. Indeed, many of us who have worked over the last two decades with the federal government toward regulation of reproductive and genetic technologies are concerned that the AHR Act is merely a "paper dragon." And with the government of Quebec contesting 27 articles in the federal law in court as it pushes for passage of its own legislation, it seems fair to wonder if even this image overestimates current protections for women and children.
Granted that putting in place an operating agency and on-the-ground regulations, as the AHR Act requires, is complex. Granted, too, that negotiating federal/provincial jurisdictions and relationships in the domain of health is complicated. But the slow movement forward from an Act on paper to a functioning program contrasts starkly with the rapid, uncontrolled proliferation of reproductive technologies and their applications in an increasingly commercialized area of medicine, one that some already call an "industry."
In the face of this delay with regard to both the regulations and the formation of the Agency, and despite applicants for positions on the Agency having been solicited and vetted, we must ask if Health Canada has the necessary resources to permit timely implementation-and if the federal government (present and past) has or had the political will do to so.
Given the rapid dissemination and increased marketing of reproductive and genetic technologies-what Deborah Spar refers to as "The Baby Business" in the title of her recent book about this area-as well as reports of potential violations of the prohibitions in the Act, this extended delay in putting in place the oversight called for by the legislation threatens the health and safety of Canadian women undergoing assisted reproduction and the children who may result. …