In Vitro Fertilisation: Regulation


In vitro fertilisation (IVF) is a fertility treatment, sometimes referred to more generically as an assisted reproductive technology (ART), designed to help couples who cannot get pregnant in the normal manner, establish a pregnancy. IVF treatment requires the creation of multiple pre‐embryos for implantation into the patient's uterus. The development of IVF techniques has prompted the use of several regulatory models, such as free market approaches, industry self‐regulation, laissez‐faire legislation and prohibitive licensing systems. Each regulatory model has strengths and weaknesses in dealing with different types of moral concerns within the IVF debate, including reproductive autonomy, safety and dignity of the unborn, the creation and destruction of waste embryos, surrogacy and ownership issues. With varying models of regulation and conflicting moral views on the matter, international harmonisation of IVF regulations is unlikely.

Key Concepts:

  • Assisted reproductive technology (ART) is a general term used to describe a variety of fertility treatments from in vitro fertilisation to sperm donation where the ultimate goal is to achieve pregnancy. There is currently no strict definition.

  • Conflicts of interest occur when an individual or group has multiple interests in a particular act or behaviour, which could unjustly influence the act or behaviour; common examples occur in law, medicine, business, politics and journalism.

  • Industry self‐regulation is where an industry or profession attempts to set up regulations to prevent, what the industry might think is, excessive governmental regulation of the industry. The auto industry in the USA is a prime example.

  • In vitro fertilisation literally mean ‘within the glass’ fertilisation and occurs when an ovum is fertilised outside the body in a glass or plastic container like a Petri dish or test‐tube. Hence, the phrase ‘test‐tube’ baby.

  • Laissez‐faire approaches to regulation refer to a ‘let it be’ attitude and is typically associated with free markets and less government involvement.

  • Pre‐embryos are fertilised ova up to 14 days old before they are implanted into a uterus.

  • Procreative (medical) tourism is the practice of travelling to a country other than one's own home country where a particular medical practice, in this case an ART of some kind, is legally permissible.

Keywords: in vitro; fertility treatment; regulations; assisted reproduction; ART


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Further Reading

Bahadur G (2001) The Human Rights Act (1998) and its impact on reproductive issues. Human Reproduction 16(4): 785–789.

Danish Council of Ethics (1995) Assisted Reproduction: A Report. Copenhagen, Denmark: Danish Council of Ethics.

Jackson E (2001) Regulating Reproduction: Law, Technology and Autonomy. Oxford, UK: Hart Publishing.

Kleinfeld J (2005) Tort law and in vitro fertilization: The need for legal recognition of “procreative injury”. The Yale Law Journal 115: 237–245.

Morgan D and Lee RG (2001) Regulating risk society: stigmata cases, scientific citizenship and biomedical diplomacy. Sydney Law Review 23: 297–318.

Morgan D and Lee RG (2002) Law, ethics, risk and the regulation of modern medicine. In: Meulders‐Klein MT, Ruth D and Paul V (eds) Biomedicine, the Family, and Human Rights. The Hague, The Netherlands: Kluwer International.

Morgan D and Lee RG (2003) Human reproduction and human rights. In: Dani S and Myra H (eds) Assisted Human Reproduction: Psychological, Social and Ethical Issues, pp. 58–75. London: Whurr Publishing.

Wadham J and Mountfield H (1999) Blackstone's Guide to the Human Rights Act 1998. London: Blackstone Press.

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Pynes, Christopher A(Sep 2010) In Vitro Fertilisation: Regulation. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0005185.pub2]