NHMRC has a well-established role in the development of ethical advice for ART. The ART guidelines are used by professional organisations to set standards for the practice of ART. The ART guidelines are primarily intended for ART clinicians, clinic nurses, embryologists, counsellors and administrators, researchers, Human Research Ethics Committees, and governments.
On 20 April 2017, the CEO of NHMRC, Professor Anne Kelso AO, issued the Ethical guidelines on the use of assisted reproductive technology in clinical practice and research 2017 (ART guidelines).
Through the work of the Australian Health Ethics Committee (AHEC), NHMRC develops health advice and provides a framework for ethical behaviour in health care and in the conduct of medical research. AHEC’s advice is used by policy makers, clinicians, researchers, human research ethics committees and members of research institutions to guide decision-making on human research and matters of human health.
NHMRC has a well-established role in the development of ethical advice for ART. A history of NHMRC’s involvement in developing ethical guidelines for ART is provided in Appendix 1 of the ART guidelines.
Overview of the ART guidelines
The ART guidelines are divided into three parts:
- Part A provides background and introductory material
- Part B provides ethical guidelines for the clinical practice of ART
- Part C provides ethical guidelines for research consistent with the Prohibition of Human Cloning for Reproduction Act 2002 (PHCR Act) and the Research Involving Human Embryos Act 2002 (RIHE Act).
Clinical Practice of ART
Many aspects of clinical practice in ART raise ethical issues. The ART guidelines cover activities including:
- the use of sperm and eggs after death (posthumous use)
- donor conception
- sex selection
- pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD).
Use of Embryos in Research
The RIHE Act requires that research on certain human embryos may only be conducted under a licence issued by the NHMRC Embryo Research Licensing Committee. The Licensing Committee must be satisfied that the research proposal has been assessed and approved by a Human Research Ethics Committee acting in accordance with the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research, 2007 (National Statement) and the ART guidelines.
Regulation of ART in Australia
In Australia there is a robust framework for the conduct of ART (in both clinical practice and in research). This framework consists of:
State and territory legislation
- Legislation to regulate ART exists in four states
- Ethical guidelines on the use of assisted reproductive technology in clinical practice and research, 2017
- National statement on ethical conduct in human research, 2007
- Australian code for the responsible conduct of research, 2007
- Accreditation of ART clinics is the responsibility of the Reproductive Technology Accreditation Committee (RTAC), established by the Fertility Society of Australia (FSA).
- RTAC accreditation requires ART clinics to comply with government laws and guidelines concerning the practice of ART, including NHMRC’s ART guidelines.
- RTAC accreditation is required for services provided by clinics to be eligible for Medicare funding.