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Thursday, May 14, 2015

What are the legal aspects of IVF and donor eggs and sperm in South Africa?

Different countries take varying approaches to the legislation surrounding IVF procedures so it’s important to manage your expectations about the legal parameters of assisted reproduction before you begin the journey in South Africa.

Wijnland Fertility Clinic in the Western Cape outlines some of the laws regarding IVF and donors.

IVF and the family

South Africa’s liberal constitution allows single parents and same sex couples to undergo IVF. This is not permitted in Turkey, China or Indonesia, where you must be a traditional male/female married couple to undergo IVF.

How many embryos?

Many countries now have single embryo transfer policies in a bid to bring down the incidence of multiple pregnancies and the associated risks and costs of having multiples. In the UK, one embryo is advised except in unusual cases, but no more than two embryos may be used per transfer.

In South Africa, the maximum number of embryos per transfer is three but the Southern African Society of Reproductive Medicine and Gynaecological Endoscopy (SASREG) advises a single embryo in most cases, with two embryos indicated only when the mother is over 38 years of age.

Using donor egg or sperm

In South Africa, no one is allowed to be paid for donating their eggs or sperm and the donor’s identity is protected by law. Parents using donated eggs will receive a donor profile which will detail characteristics and academic/social achievements of the donor.

In many countries this is no longer the case. Donor anonymity cannot be guaranteed in the UK, for example, where children of donor eggs and sperm are entitled to seek out their donor parent.

Selection of embryos by gender or genetic screening

Only a handful of countries permit costly pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD). Whilst this may be something desirable to would-be parents with a family history of genetic disorders and diseases, it is not currently legal in South Africa.

Maximum storage time for frozen embryos

Embryo storage is important for couples who may have to attempt repeat IVF treatments. Spain and Canada allow for unlimited storage, whereas Brazil has a policy of three years.

The normal time for which frozen embryos are kept is ten years. In South Africa the legal limit on the period for which frozen embryos can be stored is ten years.

Image: On the left a holding pipette is used to stabilise the oocyte (centre). On the right, a hollow glass micropipette is used to inject the sperm. Source: Wijnland Fertility Clinic

Use of sperm for IVF after the death of a partner

South African law prevents a spouse or partner from using the sperm of their deceased partner in an IVF procedure unless consent is clearly given in the deceased’s will. Landmark court cases have been won in the USA and Australia in which widows have been allowed to have IVF using their deceased partner’s sperm without express pre-mortality permission.

What about surrogacy?

India is one of the few countries in the world that legally allows women to be paid to become surrogate mothers. In South Africa no money can be exchanged for the act of surrogacy, although all the surrogate mother’s life insurance and medical health bills will be paid by the commissioning parents. A surrogate mother will have no rights to the child after the baby is born.

Says Wijnland Fertility Clinic owner and specialist, Dr Johannes van Waart; “Assisted reproduction is still a relatively new area of medicine so the legal environment is also evolving. The most important thing is to protect the rights and well-being of the patient and unborn child and we believe that South African law is following global best practice in this regard.”


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