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editorial

On Tuesday, Quebec Liberal MP Anthony Housefather plans to introduce a private member’s bill in Parliament that will prompt passionate arguments.

The bill will seek to scrap provisions in the Assisted Human Reproduction Act (AHRA) of 2004 that criminalize, among other things, for-profit surrogacy and payment for human eggs and sperm.

Mr. Housefather, who chairs the House of Commons justice committee, describes the current legislation as antiquated and paternalistic, and says it severely limits the availability of much-needed fertility services in Canada.

From the standpoint of individual liberty, Mr. Housefather’s argument has merit. Adults in this country should have the right to determine what happens to their bodies. That’s currently the case for sex work and for terminating pregnancies, and even for offering to carry a baby to term – provided there is no profit involved.

Canada permits “altruistic” surrogacy, a practice that allows some costs to be offset. So why not go all the way and mirror the laws of multiple U.S. jurisdictions by allowing commercial surrogacy?

The legalization of the practice is rare on a global scale – it is allowed in countries like Iran, Ukraine, Nigeria, Georgia and Laos – but to claim it doesn’t exist more widely, including in Canada, is nothing more than a comfortable fiction. Removing the criminal provisions from the AHRA would bring the practice into the open and could make parenthood more attainable for those who have trouble conceiving.

There are, of course, real and profound ethical concerns at play. Paying women to carry babies or for their eggs – or handing money to men for their sperm – would make these things more available, but could create conditions for abuse, particularly of young women and people living in financial duress. The point of tearing down an unfair legal framework is to replace it with something better.

If access to surrogates is to be expanded and a market created for gamete, it must be carefully regulated and subjected to oversight. It may be Parliament decides that the current laws are not so outmoded after all. But it’s worth exploring the question, and it’s good Mr. Housefather is willing to ask it.

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