UBC Reports | Vol.
51 | No. 1 | Jan.
Regulating Assisted Human Reproduction
UBC professor and reproductive health consultant Judith
Daniluk talks about choices and dilemmas
By Erica Smishek
Biological mothers, surrogate mothers, gestational mothers,
egg donors, sperm donors, in vitro fertilization -- a lot
has changed since the days our parents said they found us
in the cabbage patch.
No one knows this better than Judith Daniluk, a professor
in UBC’s dept. of education and counseling psychology,
and special education, who also serves as a reproductive health
consultant at Vancouver’s Genesis Fertility Centre and
is the author of The Infertility Survival Guide: How to Cope
with the Challenges while Maintaining your Sanity, Dignity
As the Canadian Government moves forward with the Assisted
Human Reproduction Act, Daniluk and other specialists in the
reproductive technology field are preparing for what impact
the legislation will have on them, infertile couples and others
Daniluk recently sat down with UBC Reports to discuss the
new Act, its implications and her continued interest in this
Q. The Assisted Human Reproduction Act prohibits
certain activities and will regulate others with respect to
assisted human reproduction and related research. Is it necessary?
A. We needed some general standards of practice.
There are still bigger issues. For example, as a society we
need to decide what kinds of services we believe should be
provided and to what extent is there an obligation to ensure
that the children who are produced through third-party reproductive
options such as donor egg or donor sperm have the kind of
information they need in terms of their social and medical
Technology has moved in leaps and bounds compared to what
it was even 20 years ago. And questions arise literally daily
in this area of health services. The question we need to constantly
ask ourselves is “just because we can, does it mean
Q. You have been working in the reproductive
technology field since 1982. How has it evolved?
A. The changes are dramatic. Each time technology
affords another opportunity to try something new, it opens
up a whole debate in terms of the long-term implications of
what we’re doing. For example, with assisted reproductive
technologies we’ve pushed the age barrier at which women
can have children beyond anything that was ever imagined before.
Back in the ’70s, even the early ’80s, if you
didn’t have your first child by the time you were 30,
people worried. Now it is becoming typical for women of 40,
42, 44, 46 to say, “I’m ready. I want to start
The questions are numerous. I’ve worked with women
who are in their mid- or late-40s married to younger men who
have never had kids but really want them. The women have grown
adult daughters. Is it okay for them to ask their daughters
to give them an egg so that they can have a child with their
Is it okay for a woman who was born without a uterus to
have her mother be the gestational carrier for her child?
Is that okay? And what are the implications of that?
It’s amazing what we’re able to do now. And
because we’re pushing the envelope, even from a psychosocial
standpoint, how do we make those determinations as to what
the implications are going to be for the child down the road?
Because that has to be taken into consideration. And to not
do so is irresponsible as a society. But it requires the value
Q. Prior to the Act, I understand that most
clinics used best practices from a medical standpoint as a
A. Even when you have your best practice
guidelines, there are those heart-wrenching kinds of situations
where you have to take the culture and the context into consideration
when making those choices….
What do you about the young man who is 14, 15, 16 going
through cancer treatments and as a consequence his parents
want him to bank sperm. OK, fine. But who owns that sperm?
What if he dies? And who has access to it? Or what about the
couple who go through in vitro fertilization and have seven
or eight frozen embryos. One of the couple dies. The other
wants to use the embryos. Say it’s the woman who is
trying to create a child even though the biological parent
will have died before the child is born. Is that okay? And
who decides? These are some of the issues the act is trying
Q. What fascinates you so much about reproductive
A. Some of the most fascinating issues are
about the reconfiguration of family. Some of that is social,
because we have so many more diverse family forms such as
blended families and single parent families through divorce.
But now there are more single women pursuing motherhood on
their own using anonymous donor insemination. Women now have
the choice. They don’t have to wait for Mr. Right, or
if they’ve waited and Mr. Right hasn’t come along
and their biological clock is ticking, they can become mothers
on their own. There are also many more lesbian couples creating
their families through anonymous donor insemination.
We are blurring gestational and genetic lines, and we’re
pushing age limits beyond anything we could have imagined
even 20 years ago.
Q. After more than two decades, what keeps
the whole area of reproductive health interesting for you
both as a researcher and a clinician?
A. The field of reproductive health and
medicine is hopeful because we’re talking about creating
life, we’re talking about reconstructing family, we’re
talking about people having choices and being able to pursue
options and if treatment fails, there is some peace for them
in knowing they did everything they could and it just wasn’t
meant to be. My book deals a lot with coping with the stress
of infertility and dealing with the grief of being unable
to produce a child. I’ve had people shed tears in my
office, I have shed tears with them over some of these situations.
And yet, there is a light at the end of the tunnel and it
is often a hopeful light.
Whether that is the creation of a family or whether it is
moving on to a childfree life having done what they can or
whether it is moving on to adoption or other parenting options,
it is still moving forward and assisting people in that movement
and that part is really exciting.
For more information on the Assisted Human Reproduction
Act, visit http://laws.justice.gc.ca/en/A-13.4/2294.html.
For more information on the Genesis Fertility Centre, visit