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Regulation of Assisted Reproductive Technologies [Australia]

In Australia, the regulation of assisted reproductive technologies (ART), as well as PGD, is complex and not uniform among the different states. For example, PGD is allowed under strict conditions in all Australian states except Western Australia. According to the South Australian Reproductive Technology Act (1988), ART is restricted to infertile couples at risk of transmitting a genetic defect to their child. In contrast, the Western Australia Human Reproductive Technology Act (1991) makes conducting diagnostic tests on human embryos without prior approval from the Reproductive Technology Council a criminal offence. Additionally, Western Australia requires that all research or tests have a therapeutic intent and be in accordance with current scientific and medical knowledge as to procedures that are least likely to harm the embryo.

Both legislation and ethical guidelines in Australia prohibit sex selection for non-medical reasons. The state of Victoria bans the performance of ART procedures for the purpose of producing (or attempting to produce) a child of a particular sex. It sanctions the practice with fines and up to two years of imprisonment. The ban does not prohibit selecting the sex of an embryo when "it is necessary for the child to be of a particular sex so as to avoid the risk of transmission of a genetic abnormality or a disease to the child."

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) also bans sex selection for non-medical purposes in its report "Ethical guidelines on the use of assisted reproductive technology in clinical practice and research" (2004). It is the council's opinion that sex selection should only be allowed to "reduce the risk of transmission of a serious genetic condition." The guidelines go further and provide specific indications for PGD. For example, the council recommends that PGD not be used to prevent conditions that do not seriously harm the person to be born, or for selection in favor of a genetic defect or disability. Furthermore, PGD must not be used to select for compatible tissue for use by another person, except in the case of siblings (in which case the advice of a clinical ethics committee must be sought).

PND in Australia is not regulated by law but is allowed under professional guidelines established by the NHMRC. Under the guidelines, PND may be performed if it is known that a fetus is at risk of a particular disorder (i.e. cases in which the parents have previously birthed an affected child or both parents are known to be carriers of a recessive disorder) ("Ethical Aspects of Human Genetic Testing: An Information Paper", 2000). PND may also be performed as a population screening tool offered to all pregnant women to determine if a fetus is at increased risk of spina bifida or Down syndrome (Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, 2001). In its "Statement on Human Experimentation" (1992), the NHMRC recommends that PND may be carried out in cases where the procedure is consistent with the promotion of life or health of the fetus. The Australian Medical Association in its recommendations on genetic testing for PGD and PND (2000) further requires that the disease affecting the embryo or the fetus be "permanent."

At the federal level, the Reproductive Technology Accreditation Committee is in charge of licensing and accrediting all centers that perform ART procedures and genetic testing. Research projects including gametes, embryos, and/or fetuses must be approved by an Ethics Licensing Committee.

Further reference:

  • Western Australian Human Reproductive Technology Act 1991 (amended by the Human Reproductive Technology Act of 1996).

  • South Australia Reproductive Technology Act 1988 (An Act to Regulate the Use of Reproductive Technology and Research Involving Experimentation with Human Reproductive Material).

  • Australian Medical Association, Human Genetic Issues, (2000).

  • National Health and Medical Research Council, Ethical Aspects of Human Genetic Testing: an Information Paper, (2000).

  • Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Recommended 'Best Practice' Guidelines on Antenatal Screening for Down Syndrome and other Fetal Aneuploidy, (2001).

  • Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Prenatal Diagnosis Interim Policy (2.3), (2001).

  • Victoria Infertility Treatment Act No. 63/1995 (version incorporating amendments as of July 1, 2002).

  • Research Involving Human Embryos Act, (2002).

  • Prohibition of Human Cloning Act No. 144/2002 (An Act to prohibit human cloning and other unacceptable practices associated with reproductive technology, and for related purposes), (2002).

  • Australia Law Reform Commission, Essentially Yours: The Protection of Human Genetic Information in Australia, (2003).

  • Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Antenatal Screening Tests, (2003).

  • National Health and Medical Research Council, Ethical guidelines on the Use of Assisted Reproductive Technology in Clinical Practice and Research, (September 2004).

  • Australian Government, Legislation Review, (December 2005).

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