The Governance gap in assisted human reproduction

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Publication Date: 
Mon, 2013-12-02

Participants also held different opinions on the implications of an LGBTQ perspective for feminist advocacy around assisted human reproduction. Some participants noted that LGBTQ people are significant users of assisted human reproduction, although the exact participation rate has not been established. Given that LGBTQ people, particularly trans people, may not necessarily identify with the category “women,” it was suggested that a women’s health perspective on assisted human reproduction has significant limitations.  Due to the time constraints of a one-day workshop, the implications of this challenge for feminist and women’s health advocacy were not fully discussed, although participants acknowledged the critical role of LGBTQ communities in developing policy in this area.

Next steps?

The discussions led to proposals for a number of follow-up actions:

Establish and fund a “next generation” feminist research program that could begin to identify current and future research needs.

Identify allies who might share theses concerns and be willing to work with them across sectors and reach out to a broader public. Clearly identifying key issues with “elevator speeches” and fact sheets would help make the issues more accessible to potential allies.

Create a publicly accessible registry to track and provide reliable information about the use of reproductive technologies in Canada.

Ensure granting agencies support the work of feminist and LGBTQ legal scholars to investigate the operation and effects of family, criminal, tort, and other forms of law in relation to LGBTQ family formation.

Overall, the feminists who participated in the workshop agreed that the federal government is resistant to action on assisted reproduction and that existing law is insufficient to protect the interests of those using and born of reproductive technologies. With the exception of Quebec where Medicare covers up to three cycles of IVF, provincial interventions are minimal, and do not fill the void. There is also a lack of data on the effects of assisted human reproduction on women’s, LGBTQ, and children’s health and well-being. These multiple and reinforcing gaps enable the fertility industry and medical research to proceed without recognition of women’s health and without accountability to the people of Canada.


Alana Cattapan is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Political Science at York University. A longtime feminist researcher and activist, her research examines the impact of assisted human reproduction on women’s health.

Margrit Eichler has retired from OISE/UT and is now a full-time activist, including as President for Scientists for the Right to Know, Secretary of Science for Peace and Vice-President of the Academy for Lifelong Learning.

Lorna Weir is Professor of Sociology at York University and Adjunct Professor in the Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing at the University of Toronto. She is a longtime activist on LGBTQ and feminist issues. 

Summary of Presentations
Postdoctoral researcher in Political Science at the University of Toronto, Audrey L’Espérance, provided an overview of governance and advocacy at the provincial level, identifying the importance of framing policy in ways that address one issue at a time, as a means to ensure that policymakers will take up, and implement, policy in the field.
Freelance journalist Alison Motluk then presented her study of the experiences of egg donors in Canada, raising questions about the lack of follow-up care for egg donors, underreported rates of adverse events arising from the donation process (including ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome for which donors are sometimes hospitalized), and the lack of medical research on the long term effects of egg donation on women’s health. 
The third panelist, Karen Busby, law professor at the University of Manitoba presented an overview of her recent work on parentage and surrogacy in Canada, identifying the need for legal system reforms to better protect the interests of surrogate mothers and the children they bear. She noted that considering the clear absence of conflict between surrogate mothers and intended parents in Canada, there is a case to be made for streamlining the process by which surrogate-born children are adopted by their intended families.
Françoise Baylis, professor of medical ethics and Canada Research Chair in Bioethics and Philosophy at Dalhousie University closed the panel by describing the current legal regime regulating assisted human reproduction at the federal level, identifying the illegality of paying donors and gestational women for reproductive services, and showing that these violations of the criminal law are routinely reported in the media without any legal consequences. She argued that the failure to implement the Assisted Human Reproduction Act has been due to the lack of political will on the part of the federal government.