Speech by Mr Tim O´Malley TD at the Seminar on Infertility organised by the National Infertility and Support and Information Group

Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen

As you will be aware, a diagnosis of infertility can come as an enormous shock to couples. It is a condition that is emotionally draining; it can severely test a relationship, and it may lead to overwhelming feelings of isolation and disappointment. Starting a family at some stage is, after all, what most couples desire.

Although the National Infertility Support and Information Group estimates that as many as 1 in 6 Irish couples are affected by infertility, it is a subject that is often avoided. Therefore, I would like to pay tribute to the Group for organising this seminar and for the very valuable work they do in terms of offering support, encouragement and information to those experiencing difficulties with conceiving.

Seminars such as these are an invaluable means of assisting couples to come to terms with infertility and they provide an excellent opportunity of meeting others who have gone through the same experiences. The help provided through the sharing of information and knowledge can be hugely supportive for couples through what is a very stressful time.

I do not propose therefore to unduly delay proceedings. I will however just briefly refer to some of the initiatives currently underway which I know will be of interest to those here today.

We are living in an era that is characterised by major advances in scientific and technological developments. In particular, there is evidence of major advances in the capacity of science to intervene in the process of human reproduction. The potential of science to control or even alter the natural process of the creation of human life raises basic and fundamental ethical questions for the medical profession, for Government and for society as a whole.

Techniques such as IVF, the freezing and storage of sperm and AID are available in Ireland and have enabled many couples to conceive despite impaired fertility. These services are not, however, regulated by legislation; medical practice is governed by Medical Council guidelines. The absence of statutory control in this area is, I know, a source of concern.

The whole area of assisted human reproduction raises many social, ethical, medical and legal issues. The challenge is how best it should be regulated. I am particularly concerned that our approach should be one which is fully informed and takes into account the wide range of very sensitive and complex issues involved. In order to address the concerns of the public the Government established the Commission on Assisted Human Reproduction to examine the area.

The establishment of this body represented the essential first step of a process aimed at bringing forward policy proposals in relation to this area. The Commission, which is chaired by Professor Dervilla Donnelly, comprises the medical, scientific and legal expertise necessary for a detailed and informed examination of the possible approached to regulation of the area. Ms Helen Browne, Chairperson of the National Infertility and Support Group, is a member of the Commission. I am aware that membership of national groups such as the Commission can bring with it a considerable workload for individuals already holding down key positions. For this reason, I believe it is important that their contribution and commitment to public service is acknowledged.

When the Commission was set up, my colleague, Mr. Micheál Martin, indicated that it would be required to consult with experts in the area of ethics/moral philosophy and theology so as to ensure that their perspectives are considered and reflected, as appropriate. A one-day conference in Dublin Castle in September 2001 provided an opportunity for an exchange of views between experts in the various fields from Ireland, the UK, France and Germany. The Commission, as part of its information gathering process, has also surveyed Service providers, general practitioners, obstetricians and gynaecologists. The Commission is also required to seek submissions from the public. The 2003 conference held at Dublin Castle was just one of the measures used by the Commission to establish public opinion. For example, in October 2001 the Commission placed advertisements 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. Over 1600 submissions were received and examined.

I understand that the Commission is nearing completion of its work, but given the complex ethical, social and legal implications which arise, it is not possible to say when it will be in a position to finalise a report.

I would like to thank you all most sincerely for the invitation to attend, and I wish you every success with the remainder of the conference and the events that have been organized as part of World Infertility Month in June. Thank you.