What You Need to Know About VARTA
In this video, our director and award-winning fertility lawyer, Stephen Page, discuss what you need to know about VARTA (Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority).
G’Day I’m Stephen Page from Page Provan, Family and fertility lawyers. There’s been a great push in Australia to have further regulation of IVF clinics. We’ve seen this, happen in a number of states. There have been, in addition to the national licensing requirements that any IVF clinic anywhere in Australia has to comply with, a push to have state laws, and those state laws, which exist on top of those licensing requirements, occur in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, and Western Australia.
I’m just going to focus in this video about one state, Victoria. Victoria has these laws in addition to that licensing requirement, and they sit under what’s called the Assisted Reproductive Treatment Act, 2008, and that act sets up an authority, the Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority, VARTA, and VARTA has a number of roles, and amongst those roles are to license or register IVF clinics in Victoria.
So this is an addition to their national registration, keep monitoring them, including monitoring compliance with caps. In another video, you’ll hear about caps on the number of women that donors can provide their gametes to through IVF clinics, and so on and so forth, and one of their roles also is to ensure that if there are any gametes, so that’s eggs or sperm that are donor, are coming into or out of Victoria or any embryos from those donor eggs or sperm, that VARTA gives approval to that import or export.
Now, this might sound pretty straightforward, but guess what? The only other state that has that power of veto is Western Australia with the Reproductive Technology Council and you’ll hear in another video that the WA government is likely to get rid of it. So VARTA will be there alone, and if you listen to the spiel that’s out there, well isn’t it doing a wonderful job? That’s certainly not what I’ve been hearing. So let me give you a couple of examples that stand out why I’m deeply concerned about the state of affairs currently with VARTA.
Recently, I spoke to a donor, an egg donor living in Victoria, who had intended parents living interstate, and you might think, okay, well, everyone lives in Australia. If you’ve got an egg donor in Victoria and you’ve got intended parents living interstate, this should be fairly straightforward. Not so, the donor told me that VARTA was concerned, probably, to ensure that the donation was not commercial. Right across our country, it is an offence to engage in commercial egg donation, and an offence for intended parents to pay or clinics, to pay for commercial egg donation. Federally, which would apply to any interstate donation, there is a penalty of up to 15 years jail for committing this offence.
In every state other than Western Australia and also in the ACT, there’s a 15 year jail term for this offence, WA it’s 10 years. There are also, in every state and both territories laws against commercial trafficking of tissue, which can apply quite clearly to egg donation, and the typical panel, it varies step by state is about six months in Prisma. So there’s no question at all if we had a Victorian egg donor and intended parents interstate, that if there was a commercial egg donation, everybody somewhere would be committing a criminal offence. But the level of scrutiny provided by VARTA was out of all proportion to what existed in this case.
The donor told me that she received a payment or reimbursement of $3.50. Now, just think how small $3.50 is. It’s not enough to persuade a woman to have a month of injections in her stomach, and nor is it enough to persuade her to have a minor operation which at worst could lead to injury or death. That’s what’s involved with egg donation and yet, until the receipt was found for this $3.50, the export wasn’t able to occur. Ultimately, the whole transaction had to be reversed because somehow the receipt couldn’t be found, and the intended parents had to go through the process again.
It had to be incurred again. The payment had to be reimbursed again and at that point, the receipt found and supplied to VARTA. Only after that $3.50 was found was the donation was the export able to occur. In another case, I’ve heard quite clearly VARTA required bank records going back the last seven years between the parties to show where they were friends, to show that there wasn’t commercial surrogacy occurring because it’s an offence in Victoria to pay a would be surrogate anything other than her prescribed expenses.
So these poor people had to dredge up their bank records for the last seven years to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that it wasn’t commercial. They were friends. In addition to that, counselling records from many years ago have also been dredged up in the most intrusive manner possible as to ascertain whether there might be some commerciality attached to this. In addition, I’ve been told reliably that VARTA approved an export of embryos to the United States, but only did so ten months after the application was made. When the application was made, up came the response, well there’s something missing, could you please attend to that?
And the VARTA Board only meets once a month. When that month came up, low and behold, that issue was fixed, but we found something else. And so it went on until it dribbled out for ten months. To point out the obvious, if the export had occurred earlier, there could have been a child born in the period that it took VARTA to give approval. Sadly, there has been a litany of these cases reported to me by various people who are parents, donors, fertility clinics, fertility counsellors, right across the industry.
A consistent, sad story about what is occurring with VARTA. I understand the need for scrutiny, and I understand the need to ensure that there’s not commerciality. But scrutiny at this level, which is intrusive, breaching people’s privacy, not respecting their autonomous decisions to become parents, donors, or surrogates, is so harsh that all that it will do is encourage intended parents to go interstate or more likely overseas. The whole point of regulation in Australia is to ensure that there isn’t exploitation, but it’s also to try and ensure that intended parents engage in the process in Australia. These actions within VARTA are counterproductive, and I wish they would end yesterday.