Legislation in Canada

A Timeline of Legislation in Canada

1978 – The first successful human in-vitro fertilization (IVF) procedure occurs. The project, which facilitated the birth of Louise Brown, was led by Patrick Steptoe and Robert Geoffrey.

1983 – The first successful Canadian IVF procedure results in the birth of Robert John Saunders Reid at Vancouver General Hospital. 

1989 – Prompted by the increasing significance of reproductive technologies, Brian Mulroney’s Conservative government establishes the Royal Commission on New Reproductive Technologies. The Commission involves over 300 researchers and is chaired by Dr. Patricia Baird, a medical geneticist and pediatrician.

1993 – The Commission publishes a report titled Proceed with Care. The synopsis of the report on the Government of Canada website report declares, “Test tube babies, fertility drugs, egg and embryo donation, womb rental, gene therapy and sex selection are all issues fraught with implications — social, ethical, legal, health, scientific and economic,” and the report is “an exhaustive analysis of the issues and a set of far-reaching recommendations.”

1996 – The Canadian government makes their first attempt at regulating Assisted Reproductive Technology, with Bill C-47, the Human Reproductive and Genetic Technologies Act, but it fails in 1997.

2001 –Bill C-56, An Act respecting assisted human reproduction, is proposed in the House of Commons but does not get beyond its second reading in the House of Commons.

2002 – Bill C-13, An Act respecting assisted human reproduction and related research, is proposed in the House of Commons but does not get beyond its second reading in the Senate.

2004 – The Canadian government succeeds in regulating Assisted Reproductive Technology with the passage of the Assisted Human Reproduction Act (S.C. 2004, c. 2).

The AHRA, which came into force in 2004, seeks to limit the exploitation of the “reproductive capabilities of children, women, and men for commercial gain” for health and ethical reasons. The AHRA outlines several prohibitions related to surrogacy, including:

  • Paying or offering to pay a woman to be a surrogate mother
  • Advertising that payment will be offered to a woman to be a surrogate mother
  • Accepting payment (or anything else given or promised) in exchange for arranging the services of a surrogate mother
  • Offering to pay for the arrangement of such services;
    Advising or helping a woman under 21 years of age become a surrogate mother.

Under the AHRA, paying for a surrogate’s services is punishable by a fine of up to $500,000 or 10 years in prison. Costs that are permitted to be covered include travel for medical appointments, medication, maternity clothing and lost work wages.

2006 – Assisted Human Reproduction Canada (AHRC), was created to administer a regulatory framework and enforce the law. The AHRC was established in order to obtain information regarding reproductive technology and communicate this information to the Ministry of Health, organizations, and the Canadian public.

2010Reference Re Assisted Human Reproduction Act
Quebec, with the support of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and New Brunswick, challenges the constitutionality of the AHRA by questioning whether “sections 8 to 19, 40 to 53, 60, 61 and 68 of the Assisted Human Reproduction Act, S.C. 2004, c.2, ultra vires the Parliament of Canada in whole or in part under the Constitution Act, 1867.”

The Supreme Court of Canada rules that sections 8-19 and 40-53 are constitutionally invalid.

Because of this decision, the AHRC is dismantled with Health Canada set to take over responsibility for the AHRC’s functions. To date, it has not yet outlined comprehensive policies. The provinces have not introduced comprehensive policies.

However, the federal government is still allowed a ban on payment for gamete donation and surrogacy.

2016 – Health Canada announces its intention of bringing into force the dormant sections of the Assisted Human Reproduction Act and develop supporting regulations as required.

2017 – Health Canada launches consultations, inviting interested parties to provide commons on key policy proposals.

2018 – MP Anthony Housefather tables Bill C-404 which amends the Act to decriminalize payment for gamete donation and surrogacy. This bill is crafted without the input of donor-conceived individuals.

2018 – The Donor Conceived Alliance of Canada is formed by donor-conceived Canadians as a means of effectively communicating our interests as stakeholders in the ethical issues and scientific advances of assisted reproductive technology.

2018 – Health Canada releases a Guidance Document that outlines their interpretation of the proposed regulations under the Assisted Human Reproduction Act. 

2019 – Health Canada releases regulations to address significant long-standing gaps in assisted human reproduction in Canada.

Summary of International Law

The importance of comprehensive reform concerning the regulation of assisted reproductive technology has been recognized in a number of countries around the world including:

Austria (1992)
Switzerland (1998)
Norway (2003)
United Kingdom (2004)
Holland (2004)
New Zealand (2004)
Finland (2006)
Sweden (2006)
Washington State, United States (2011)
Croatia (2012)
Victoria, Australia (2015)
Germany (2015)
Argentina (2014)
Ireland (2018)

Health Law Central has detailed information on countries that have implemented legislation that regulates the fertility industry.