Quebec is picking up the cost for fertility treatments of a surrogate mother acting on behalf of a gay male couple, a novelty that has spawned controversy over the province's generous in vitro fertilization program.
Media personality Joël Legendre joyfully announced on his Facebook page this week that he was expecting twins with his partner this summer, thanks to a Quebec woman who agreed to act as a surrogate. Her in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment is being covered under the province's health-insurance plan.
Mr. Legendre, a radio host, said the IVF program had been unfair because while lesbian couples could benefit, gay men could not.
"It was impossible for two men," he said to a radio interviewer. "It's completely discriminatory."
After multiple rejections by the Quebec health-insurance board, Mr. Legendre appealed to his provincial MNA for help, who in turn passed along the request to Réjean Hébert, health minister under the previous Parti Québécois government.
A week later, Mr. Legendre said, an aide to Mr. Hébert contacted him to say "we opened everything, and now gays can have children if they want."
Several male couples he knows followed suit, Mr. Legendre said.
The issue stirred a heated debate, partly because of the soaring cost of the province's fertility treatments at a time of budget constraints. Quebec was the first province to fully fund IVF, whose cost exploded this year to $67-million, from $27-million in its first eight months of operation starting in 2010. Each IVF cycle costs the government $4,750.
The province had already decided to review the program, and the new Liberal health minister, Gaétan Barrette, says it needs clearer guidelines. Before being elected, Mr. Barrette had described the program as an "open bar."
"I think the population expects that public funds – people's taxes – be managed with rigour," he said on Thursday.
The incident has also thrown a spotlight on the use of surrogates. Quebec's IVF program is open to any woman of childbearing age with a provincial health-insurance card. However, Quebec's Civil Code does not recognize agreements with surrogate mothers, a measure put in place in 1994 for ethical reasons to protect women.
Alain Roy, a professor of family law at the University of Montreal, says it's incoherent for the health ministry to fund in vitro treatments while surrogacy contracts are not legally recognized. Until the law is changed, the health ministry is acting prematurely, Mr. Roy said. "They're putting the cart before the horse. This should be up to legislators, not the Ministry of Health," he said.