Regulation of infertility clinics urged

CHENNAI Oct. 31. A Bill to provide for accreditation, supervision and regulation of clinics involved in assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs) is likely to be introduced in Parliament early next year.

Prior to this, an expert committee, comprising medical and legal specialists and socio-economic experts, has completed a draft of the national-level guidelines for accreditation, supervision and regulation of the ART clinics and the draft guidelines were released in early September.

The Indian Council of Medical Research and the National Academy of Medical Sciences (NAMS), which has played a major role in drafting the guidelines is now organising public discussions on the draft, to invite wide-ranging suggestions and inputs to improve the draft. Once this is finalised, it will lead to the formulation of a Bill for the same purpose to be passed by Parliament.

One such interaction was organised in Chennai by the ICMR and the NAMS, along with the Apollo Hospitals, on Friday, where the expert committee members highlighted the need to regulate and improve supervision of ART clinics.

The ICMR's Assistant Director-General, R.S. Sharma, and the chairman of the expert group that formulated the draft guidelines, B.N. Chakravarthy, noted that the number of ART and infertility clinics in India had gone past 250. However, the practices and techniques used by some of them were doubtful, due to a lack of regulation and supervision. Questions about the misuse, ethics and morals of the techniques keep rising as also those concerning the protocols used for ovulation simulation and influence of such ARTs.

Prof. Chakravarthy and a member of the committee, T.C. Anand Kumar, said several countries such as the U.S, the U.K., the E.U. nations, which had a large number of ART, and infertility clinics were putting in place a regulation and accreditation system. A similar move was needed here.

Another committee member, P.M. Bhargava, lamented the increasing commercialisation of the medical profession, wherein ethics was slowly getting to be a "low priority area". Highlighting the role of reproductive medicine, Prof. Bhargava said infertility should be deemed "the largest prevalent disease among people affecting 15 per cent of the couples". No other clinical condition assumed such social importance in India. Once the guidelines were in place for regulating ART facilities, the next step would be getting the disorder included under the CGHS, and be covered by medical insurance.

The draft guidelines had nine chapters for definitions, physical requirements of an ART clinic, description of different ART procedures such as artificial insemination with husband's semen or donor semen, intrauterine insemination with husband's or donor semen, embryo transfer after in vitro fertilisation, sperm injection and cryopreservation, criteria for selecting and screening patients and categories of clinics.

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