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Transnational Trade in Human Eggs: Law, Policy, and (In)Action in Canada

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2021

Extract

In Canada (as elsewhere) there is a growing demand for human eggs for reproductive purposes and currently demand exceeds supply. This is not surprising, as egg production and retrieval is onerous. It requires considerable time, effort, and energy and carries with it significant physical and psychological risks. In very general terms, one cycle of egg production and retrieval involves an estimated total of 56 hours for interviews, counseling, and medical procedures (i.e., screening, hormonal stimulation, and egg retrieval). The screening carries risks of unanticipated findings with severe consequences for insurability (which can be catastrophic). The daily hormone injections can be painful and uncomfortable, causing cramping, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, bloating, mood changes, and irritability.

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Symposium
Copyright
Copyright © American Society of Law, Medicine and Ethics 2013

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References

There is also a substantial and growing demand for eggs for research on reproduction, reproductive and genetic technologies, and regenerative medicine (e.g., embryonic stem cell research). However, the scope of this paper is limited to the use of eggs for reproductive purposes.Google Scholar
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There is evidence that Canadian women and couples travel to other countries to provide and to receive eggs; some also import frozen eggs into Canada. As well, Canadian health professionals retrieve and use the eggs of women visiting Canada for the express purpose of providing eggs. Alongside fertility consultants (and brokers), health professionals also facilitate the transfer of eggs across borders. This evidence is summarized later in the paper.Google Scholar
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Although there is not space to go into any detail in this paper, we note that all provinces and territories have legislation regarding human tissue donation and transplantation. Five provinces explicitly exclude eggs from the operation of this legislation (Ontario, Nova Scotia, PEI, Manitoba, and Alberta). Five other jurisdictions do not explicitly exclude eggs from their legislation and these four provinces and territory prohibit the buying, selling, or otherwise dealing in, directly or indirectly, for a valuable consideration of any tissue, where eggs would fit within their definition of “tissue” (British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Yukon, Newfoundland, and New Brunswick). The Northwest Territories and Nunavut legislation only deal with post mortem donation and, with respect to live donation, Quebec only addresses consent to the use of tissue for research purposes. Three of the five jurisdictions that do not exclude eggs explicitly state that “any dealing prohibited… is invalid as against public policy.” (British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and Yukon). One could reasonably argue that the buying, selling, and otherwise dealing in eggs, for a valuable consideration, is illegal in these jurisdictions. See, for example, Human Tissue Gift Act, RSBC 1996, c 211; Human Tissue Gift Act, RSS 1978, c H-15; Human Tissue Gift Act, RSY 2002, c 117.Google Scholar
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See, for example, “Egg Donor, Surrogate Mother, Surrogacy India,” available at <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aKiSL8RpxAs&feature=related> (last visited February 20, 2013). See also, Center for Human Reproduction (CHR) in New York City, “Donor Eggs for Canadians in New York City,” available at <http://www.centerforhumanreprod.com/donor_eggs_canada.html> (last visited February 20, 2013): “Egg donor program in New York City offers a quick, anonymous alternative to donor IVF in Canada. A markedly increased number of Canadian patients have contacted the Center for Human Reproduction (CHR) in New York City in recent years, because of its unique egg donation program. CHR's program is a unique egg donor program in the US, offering, likely, the largest and most diverse egg donor pool anywhere in the world. The program is, however, especially relevant to Canadian patients because legal circumstances in the U.S. differ significantly from those in Canada, and, therefore, allow us to offer not only great choice of donor eggs for Canadians but also immediate access to an excellent donor.”.+(last+visited+February+20,+2013).+See+also,+Center+for+Human+Reproduction+(CHR)+in+New+York+City,+“Donor+Eggs+for+Canadians+in+New+York+City,”+available+at++(last+visited+February+20,+2013):+“Egg+donor+program+in+New+York+City+offers+a+quick,+anonymous+alternative+to+donor+IVF+in+Canada.+A+markedly+increased+number+of+Canadian+patients+have+contacted+the+Center+for+Human+Reproduction+(CHR)+in+New+York+City+in+recent+years,+because+of+its+unique+egg+donation+program.+CHR's+program+is+a+unique+egg+donor+program+in+the+US,+offering,+likely,+the+largest+and+most+diverse+egg+donor+pool+anywhere+in+the+world.+The+program+is,+however,+especially+relevant+to+Canadian+patients+because+legal+circumstances+in+the+U.S.+differ+significantly+from+those+in+Canada,+and,+therefore,+allow+us+to+offer+not+only+great+choice+of+donor+eggs+for+Canadians+but+also+immediate+access+to+an+excellent+donor.”.>Google Scholar
When prospective recipients choose egg providers on the basis of their genetic traits, it is illogical to characterize any payments made to these providers solely as payments for services rendered. If the payments were solely for services, the genetic features of the provider would be irrelevant.Google Scholar
Payment is clearly above expenditures when the description of the payment is, for example, “$5,000 plus expenses.”.Google Scholar
See ss. 22 and 24 of the original AHR Act for details of the Agency's objectives and powers. The AHRC was abolished through s. 722 of An Act to implement certain provisions of the Budget Tabled in Parliament on March 29, 2012 and other measures, S.C. 2012, c. 19 [hereinafter cited as the Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act]. See also Baylis, F., “The Demise of Assisted Human Reproduction Canada,” Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada 34, no. 6 (2012): 511513.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
In this paper, we do not use the value-laden term “cross-border reproductive care” in part because of the false image that “care” conveys. As Eric Blyth reports, care “is not always present in the experiences of patients seeking fertility services in a country other than their own.” Blyth, E. Thorn, P., and Wischmann, T., “CBRC and Psychosocial Counseling: Assessing Needs and Developing an Ethical Framework for Practice,” Reproductive Biomedicine Online 23, no. 5 (2011): 642651.Google Scholar
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In 2011, Alison Motluk won silver for investigative reporting at the 34th annual National Magazine Awards for her article, “The Human Egg Trade: How Canada's Fertility Laws are Failing Donors, Doctors, and Patients,” cited in supra note 13. She also received an honourable mention in the SOGC Journalism Awards for Excellence in Women's Health Reporting (print category).Google Scholar
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Reference re Assisted Human Reproduction Act, 2010 SCC 61, 3 SCR 457 [hereinafter cited as AHRA Reference]. The Quebec government challenged ss. 8 to 19, 40 to 53, 60, 61 and 68 of the AHR Act as ultra vires the federal government.Google Scholar
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Section 753(1) of the Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act S.C. 2012, c. 19 provides that “Sections 715 and 716, or any provision enacted by section 716 [i.e., s. 10 of the AHR Act as amended], come into force on a day or days to be fixed by order of the Governor in Council.” No date has yet been fixed. It is worth noting here that s. 10 of the AHR Act as passed in 2004 was in force from the date of passage of the Act (unlike ss. 8 and 12). With the revisions to the Act, the government realized that it needed to hold off on the section coming into force until the regulations were drafted (and did so through s. 753(1) of the Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act). This avoids the absurd situation, present from 2004 until s. 10 was struck down by the SCC in the AHRA Reference in 2010, which we would argue prohibited anyone from altering, manipulating or treating any human reproductive material for the purpose of creating an embryo and obtaining, storing, transferring, destroying, importing or exporting eggs. (These activities were prohibited, except when in accordance with the regulations and a licence. Yet, no regulations or licenses were ever issued. Therefore there was actually no way for anyone to engage in these activities without violating s. 10.) Some might argue, against this interpretation, that anyone who undertook any of the activities set out in s. 10 at least once between August 22, 2003 and April 22, 2004 was legally permitted to continue such activities because of s. 71, known as the “grandfathering clause.”. However, this argument fails to notice that the grand-fathering clause cured the lack of a licensing scheme but not the lack of other regulations. Therefore, we would argue that, as no regulations were passed for the original s. 10 and yet the section was in force, the activities set out in the original s. 10 were illegal from 2004 (when the original AHR Act came into force) until 2010 (when the original s. 10 was struck down in the AHRA Reference).Google Scholar
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As this paper was going to press, there was a news report that 27 charges had been laid against Leia Picard and her fertility consulting company (Canadian Fertility Consultants) including charges for “buying or offering to buy sperm or eggs.” Blackwell, T., “Illegal Purchase of Sperm, Eggs and Surrogacy Services Leads to 27 Charges against Canadian Fertility Company and CEO,” National Post, February 2013, available at <http://news.nationalpost.com/2013/02/15/illegal-purchase-of-sperm-eggs-and-surrogacy-services-leads-to-27-charges-against-canadian-fertility-company-and-ceo/> (last visited February 25, 2013). No details of the charges (including whether they include any transnational activity) are available yet.+(last+visited+February+25,+2013).+No+details+of+the+charges+(including+whether+they+include+any+transnational+activity)+are+available+yet.>Google Scholar
Sections 66–67 set out the process which must be followed for the making of regulations under the AHR Act (e.g., with some exceptions, they must be laid before Parliament and referred to the appropriate committee of each House).Google Scholar
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Of course, it is not the case that all instances of possible violations of law should be prosecuted. The concept and practice of prosecutorial discretion exists precisely to allow for some non-prosecution. However, the exercise of prosecutorial discretion is bounded. Unfortunately, as there has been no meaningful transparency in the enforcement of the AHR Act, there is no evidence that the non-prosecution of violations of ss. 7 and 8 and s. 10 (before the recent changes) was actually the result of legitimate exercises of prosecutorial discretion.Google Scholar
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We do not advocate an education and facilitation campaign directed at healthy volunteers (i.e., women who would not otherwise be undergoing egg retrieval and freezing). Rather, the focus here is on women who have frozen eggs they no longer intend to use for their own reproductive purposes, who can choose to have them destroyed or, alternatively, to donate them for reproductive or research use. The education and facilitation campaign would promote donation over destruction.Google Scholar
AHR Act, as amended, ss. 44 and 58. Under s. 44 of the AHR Act, the responsibility for enforcement is given to the Minister of Health. Under s. 58, the Minister “may enter into agreements with any department or agency of the government of Canada or of a province or with any law enforcement agency with respect to the administration and enforcement of this Act.”.Google Scholar