History of Victorian ART regulation

Australia's first IVF baby, Candice Reed, was born at Melbourne’s Royal Women’s Hospital in 1980. Candice was only the third IVF baby born in the world, with the first being Louise Brown at Manchester’s Oldham Hospital in 1978. IVF, in-vitro fertilisation is a type of assisted reproductive treatment (ART).

The birth of Candice Reed was the culmination of a decade’s work by a Melbourne team drawn together by the late Professor Carl Wood, who was then Chairman of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Monash University and the Queen Victoria Medical Centre.

The research team responsible for pioneering work in the IVF field was based at the Royal Women’s Hospital, Queen Victoria Medical Centre and Monash University.

Although Candice Reed was the third 'IVF baby' in the world, Melbourne researchers had been responsible for two early IVF pregnancies in 1973 that had been lost after less than one week.

What is assisted reproductive technology (ART)?

Legislation

Infertility (Medical Procedures) Act 1984

Following the first IVF birth in Australia, the Victorian Government established a review of IVF research and practice which led to the proclamation of the Infertility (Medical Procedures) Act 1984, enacted in 1988. The accompanying Infertility (Medical Procedures) Regulations 1988 set out requirements in relation to counselling, the Central Register, artificial insemination and donor expenses. This was the first legislation worldwide to regulate IVF and associated human embryo research.

Infertility Treatment Act 1995

As a result of the Infertility Treatment Act 1995, the Infertility Treatment Authority (now the Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority or VARTA) was established. The 1995 Act was more comprehensive than its predecessor and sought to bring the law up-to-date with developments in science and technology, such as the use of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis. This Act was supported by the Infertility Treatment Regulations 1997 which outlined requirements in relation to counselling, information and the donor registers.

In 2004, the Victorian Government asked the Victorian Law Reform Commission to review aspects of the Infertility Treatment Act 1995 and provide recommendations for changes. The commission presented 130 recommendations to the Victorian Government in June 2007 relating to eligibility for assisted reproductive treatment, self-insemination, donation of gametes, posthumous use of gametes and embryos, legal parentage, access to information regarding donor conception, birth registration and surrogacy. 

Assisted reproductive technology & adoption: Final report

Assisted Reproductive Treatment Act 2008

The Victorian Law Reform Commission’s recommendations on reform of the Infertility Treatment Act 1995 led to the development of the Assisted Reproductive Treatment Act 2008. The Act altered eligibility for ART and the types of services that could be provided by clinics. It also removed the research provisions from the Infertility Treatment Act,and the Research Involving Human Embryos Act 2008 and the Prohibition of Human Cloning for Reproduction Act 2008 were enacted to cover research. The research Acts mirror Commonwealth legislation of the same name. All Victorian Acts can be found at legislation.vic.gov.au.

Assisted Reproductive Treatment Amendment Act 2016

The Assisted Reproductive Treatment Amendment Act 2016 (Vic) amends the 2008 Act to give all donor-conceived people, no matter when they were born, the right to know their genetic heritage. As a result, donors will no longer have the ability to veto the release of their identifying information to their donor offspring but will be able to determine how - or if - they have contact with an applicant. The amendments also provide for the management of the central and voluntary registers to be moved from the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages to VARTA. This transition will enable VARTA's Donor Registers Service to be a ‘one door in’ provider of support and information to donors, donor-conceived people, and their families. The new laws come into effect on 1 March 2017. 

Professional guidelines

In addition to the legislation, ART clinics are required to adhere to professional and ethical guidelines.

Reproductive Technology Accreditation Committee Code of Practice

The Fertility Society of Australia (FSA) first introduced a series of quality assurance standards for ART clinics in 1986. The FSA established the Reproductive Technology Accreditation Committee (RTAC) in 1987, thereby expanding the original FSA standards. RTAC has regularly reviewed its code of practice since this time.

Through the code of practice, RTAC sets professional and laboratory standards for ART clinical practice. It is an offence in Australia to use human embryos in any way without RTAC licensing. Therefore, compliance with the RTAC Code of Practice is mandatory for ART clinics.

RTAC Code of Practice

National Health and Medical Research Council Ethical Guidelines

In 2004, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) developed the Ethical Guidelines on the Use of Assisted Reproductive Technology in Clinical Practice and Research. The RTAC Code of Practice requires Australian ART clinics to comply with these guidelines. In 2007, the guidelines were revised to incorporate amendments made to the Research Involving Human Embryos Act 2002 (Cth) and the Prohibition of Human Cloning for Reproduction Act 2002 (Cth). 

Ethical Guidelines on the Use of Assisted Reproductive Technology in Clinical Practice and Research 2017