The Commission On Assisted Human Reproduction was established in March 2000 with the following terms of reference: to prepare a report on the possible approaches to the regulation of all areas of assisted human reproduction and the social, ethical and legal factors to be taken into account in determining public policy in this area.
The commission has met on 21 occasions to date. The first meeting was held on 26 July 2000 and the most recent on 11 November 2003. I understand that the commission has adopted an interdisciplinary approach to its work. Initially, each discipline — medical, legal, scientific and social — prepared a report outlining the current position within that discipline in relation to assisted human reproduction. Working groups were then formed to examine specific topics and issues that needed to be addressed. The working groups meet on a regular basis to discuss their tasks and to progress the work of the commission.
I have been informed that the work group structure facilitates close attention to a relatively limited range of topics by a highly specialised group. It also facilitates the detailed exploration of a range of ethical and social implications that arise from assisted human reproduction.
The commission organised a one-day conference in Dublin Castle in September 2001. The conference dealt with the social, ethical and legal factors inherent in assisted human reproduction. It provided an opportunity for an exchange of views between experts in the various fields from Ireland, the UK, France and Germany.
When the commission was set up, I indicated that it would be required to seek submissions from the public and to consult appropriate interests. In order to inform itself on the current state of public opinion in Ireland on assisted human reproduction, the commission placed an advertisement in the newspapers inviting interested members of the public, professional or voluntary organisations and other parties who wished to do so to make written submissions before Wednesday, 31 October 2001. Over 1,600 of these were received and examined.
I understand that the commission has engaged in a number of information gathering exercises that include a survey of assisted human reproduction services provided in specialised clinics. A survey instrument was drafted by the commission with a view to establishing the extent of the provision of assisted human reproduction services in Ireland. The commission issued a survey instrument to a random sample to 50% of GPs in all health board areas. I understand that a high proportion of those surveyed responded. The commission also issued a survey instrument to obstetricians and gynaecologists to elicit information on their level of involvement in assisted human reproduction services. The commission has also surveyed public attitudes and opinions on a range of questions related to assisted human reproduction. I understand that the commission will complete its report shortly. Its recommendations will provide the basis for informed public debate before the finalisation of any policy proposals.