The ROYAL COMMISSION on New Reproductive Technologies was established in October 1989 by Brian Mulroney's Conservative government in response to demands for an examination of the use of reproductive technologies. Public demand for these technologies had been increasing ever since the healthy birth of Louise Brown, the world's first "test tube baby," in 1978. The ability to manipulate human reproductive biology had been in development for decades and was advancing rapidly, giving rise to ethical and social issues, but the technologies were not regulated. The commission's mandate was to investigate "current and potential medical and scientific developments related to new reproductive technologies" in order to consider their "social, ethical, health, research, legal and economic implications and the public interest, and recommend what policies and safeguards should be applied." The commission's final report, delivered in November 1993, was entitled Proceed with Care and contained 293 recommendations.
The commission comprised members from the fields of medicine, law, religion and sociology under commission chair Dr. Patricia Baird, a pediatrician and medical geneticist. The commission followed a series of processes within an ethical framework that gave priority to families and communities and that involved wide consultation, input from all sectors and viewpoints, and appraisal of research evidence to reach its conclusions. The investigators assessed the application of a technology using the principles of autonomy, equality, respect and dignity, protection of the vulnerable, non- commercialization of reproduction, appropriate application of resources, accountability, and balance between individual and collective interests. The commission employed public hearings, toll-free telephone lines, personal interviews, focus groups and national surveys to collect the opinions of some 15 000 Canadians. The research and evaluation involved more than 300 researchers across 70 disciplines. The results revealed that Canadians had serious concerns about new reproductive technologies, including their potential threats to health, ethical dilemmas associated with them, and the potential for their adverse effects on particular groups such as women, children, families and the disabled.
The commission determined that some applications of new reproductive technologies are beneficial and should be supported, some uses should be prohibited, and others should be applied within specific limits. It recommended two immediate actions be taken by Parliament: changing the Criminal Code to prohibit certain practices related to the use of reproductive technologies and establishing a national regulatory and licensing agency. Such an agency would oversee practice in the field, protect Canadians from unsafe applications of reproductive technologies, and ensure that people who needed reproductive technologies would receive good information before using them.
The minister of health, in response to the recommendations, called for a voluntary moratorium on 9 practices in 1995, an action widely viewed as inadequate. In 1996 the first of 4 attempts was made to pass legislation governing reproductive technologies. It was not until March 2004 that Bill C-13, the Assisted Human Reproduction Act, became law. The new law banned many practices, including human cloning, the sale of human ova and sperm, "rent-a-womb" contracts, combining human and animal DNA, and sex selection. It permitted other practices, including surrogacy, donating reproductive material, using embryos, sperm and ova to assist conception, and using human embryos and stem cells in research. The law also called for the establishment of the Assisted Human Reproduction Agency of Canada (AHRAC).
The AHRAC, headquartered in Vancouver, was formally established on 12 January 2006 and is responsible for administering the regulatory framework of reproductive technologies and enforcing prohibitions under the Assisted Human Reproduction Act.