A pregnant woman. For illustrative purposes only. Image Credit: Gulf News archives

Abu Dhabi: Members of the Federal National Council (FNC) on Tuesday passed a draft law on medical assistance for reproduction that allows embryo, egg and sperm freezing, but bans surrogacy, egg and sperm donation.

The draft legislation aims to give hope to those who experience difficulty to conceive by improving their chances of getting pregnant, but also promotes children’s health and boosts the UAE’s vision to achieve leadership in fertilisation and assisted reproduction.

The bill, approved by the UAE Cabinet last year, requires final approval by President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan. The executive regulations will be released through a Cabinet decision.

“In all cases, fertilisation or transplantation is prohibited except between a couple in an existing marital relationship and in their presence,” according to the draft law.

Dh1 million

Maximum €fine and imprisonment of up to fi€ve years for violators

However, the bill prohibits, in any way, the establishment of or dealing with embryonic banks in the country, assuring the need to maintain the necessary records for the registration of all medical operations related to assisted reproductive technologies and the importance of establishing a committee at the centre to monitor all such activities.

Violators of the law will face an imprisonment term of not more than five years and a fine not exceeding one million dirhams.

The draft law stipulates that fertilised ova that have not been planted in the wife should be destroyed in the following cases: the death of one of the spouses, termination of the marital relationship, the couple’s request for destruction and expiry of the preservation period without requesting an extension.

The draft law states that non-fertilised eggs and frozen sperm should be destroyed in two cases: the application of the concerned couples and the expiration of the conservation period without requesting an extension.

The new legislation, forming a national committee to provide recommendations related to fertility centres across the country, allows the involvement of national capabilities in scientific research on fertility treatments.

Abdul Rahman Al Owais, Minister of Health and Prevention (MOHAP) and Minister of FNC Affairs, said the law had been consulted with all relevant health authorities as well as the Supreme Legislation Committee in Dubai and the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments.


Increase in chances of reproduction by embryo freezing

Al Owais said the MOHAP strategy came from the UAE vision and the National Agenda 2021, in keeping with its UAE Centennial 2071, which aims at developing the health care system in the country and upgrading it to the best global levels to keep pace with the major changes taking place in the country and its esteemed position globally.

He said the legislation aims to strengthen the legal framework that will organise the practice of offering medical assistance for reproduction, while preserving the identity of society and its cultural, moral and religious components.

Embryo freezing increases the chances of reproduction by 70 per cent, avoids genetic diseases such as thalassaemia and sickle cell anaemia.

The medical assistance for reproduction includes the identification of medical tools and methods that will assist in pregnancy and childbirth without natural contact, which include clinical and biological interventions to facilitate conception.

Couples will benefit from freezing eggs, sperms or embryos. Pregnancy rate in the case of embryo freezing is higher by 40 per cent compared to egg freezing.

Members of the House stressed this medical breakthrough is important in the treatment of infertility and in helping couples reproduce, especially in terms of their convenience and accessibility, leaving patients with no reason to travel outside the UAE for treatment.


Higher chance of pregnancy through embryo freezing compared to egg freezing

Under the new legislation, fertility centres must take the maximum possible medical measures to prevent the mixing between oocytes. When the remaining fertilised eggs are no longer needed, these eggs are left without medical attention until they expire.

Also, these centres are allowed to carry out research or experiments on non-fertilised eggs and on sperm cells, in accordance with the conditions and controls specified by the executive regulations of this law, in addition to allowing the pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis to identify any genetic disease, providing that necessary actions are taken to protect the fertilised egg from any damage.

The new draft law will abolish Federal Law No. (11) of 2008 on the licensing of fertility centres in the UAE.

Special controls have been put in place for the removal of samples of fertilised eggs or gametes or their entry into the country, in accordance with regulations and conditions.

In addition there is an important amendment at the level of provisions related to conducting research and experiments on fertilised eggs or gametes, in accordance with the controls and conditions prescribed by the Executive Regulations.

The draft law specifically bans six reproductive techniques:

■ Fertilising a sperm taken from a husband and egg taken from a foreign woman and then laying the fertilised egg in the womb of the wife;

■ Fertilising a sperm taken from a foreign man and an egg taken from the wife and then laying the fertilised egg in the womb of the wife;

■ Fertilisation carried out by sperm taken from a husband and an egg taken from a wife and then laying the fertilised egg in the uterus of a volunteer woman;

■ Fertilisation carried out by taking sperm from a husband and an egg taken from a woman and then laying the fertilised egg in the womb of another woman;

■ Fertilisation carried out by taking sperm from a husband and egg taken from his wife and then laying the fertilised egg in the womb of another wife of the husband;

■ And any other case determined by a decision of the Cabinet.

Merits of the draft law

A set of conditions and controls mentioned by the draft law, including:

■ That medically-assisted reproductive technology is the most appropriate method of reproduction after it has been proven that the pregnancy cannot be made by natural contact for a period of at least one year;

■ The licensed health facility should provide a detailed explanation to the couple about the assisted reproductive technology chosen, the stages of the operation and the negative implications or potential complications, as well as the cost of the procedure and actual pregnancy rate of similar cases at the same centre; and

■ Presenting a certificate from a specialist doctor that there is no danger to the life of the mother or foetus or serious damage to their health within the scope of medical knowledge.