Mr Shatter told his successor Frances Fitzgerald that her proposed ban on the anonymous donation of genetic material would have the “unintended consequence” of forcing couples who have difficulties conceiving to leave the State for treatment. He said this would be “another Irish solution to an Irish problem.”
Lengthy exchanges between Mr Shatter and Ms Fitzgerald dominated a discussion on the Bill at the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice on Thursday morning.
Mr Shatter accepted the proposed ban was driven by “the best of intentions” but said there had been inadequate consultation on it.
While he supported the principle that children should as far as possible be able to trace their origins, in the matter of donations this was a “complicated and more difficult issue.”
Some states allowed anonymous donations, others had a mix of anonymous and known donations and “a smaller number” required that the identities of all donors be known.
“The difference in Ireland is that this is a very small country,” he said. Unless there was an international ban on anonymous donations, couples would opt to leave the country for treatment, making the Bill’s provision unenforceable.
“Unless there is a global approach, those seeking anonymous donations will simply get on a plane,” he said.
Mr Shatter, who was closely involved in drafting early versions of the Bill, said the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists shared these concerns.
He repeatedly asked Ms Fitzgerald if her department had engaged in discussions with fertility clinics and medical professionals working on assisted reproduction about the possible consequences of the ban.
He said it would be preferable to make provision for a mix of known and anonymous donations.
“I don’t want us, out of the best of idealistic motives - allowing children to trace their origins - create the unintended consequence of creating a barrier to donation in Ireland,” he said.
“I believe this will have the unintended consequence of bringing to an end assisted reproduction by donor in Ireland.”
Ms Fitzgerald said it was the “strong view” of the Oireachtas committee that children should have access to their own genetic information.
She said this opinion was shared by the Ombudsman for Children and the change would bring Ireland into line with international best practice. “I’m absolutely convinced the principle is the right principle,” she said.
Ms Fitzgerald said there was no evidence from states which had banned anonymous donation that donor-assisted reproduction stopped.
She said the Department of Health was undertaking a broader analysis of assisted reproduction and some of the issues raised by Mr Shatter would be part of that consultation. “It’s very much a Department of Health issue, primarily,” she said.
In response, Mr Shatter said “No matter how the minister puts it, we are dealing with aspects of AHR (assisted human reproduction) that affect couples.” He said he did not believe such reforms “should be enacted on the basis that ‘maybe we’ll have a consultation process afterwards.’”
Mr Shatter asked how many children had been born by donor-assisted human reproduction in the past 30 years, but Ms Fitzgerald said those figures were not available.
He also criticised the Government for having removed surrogacy provisions from the Bill, saying these had been “abandoned to whoever happens to be in government next time.”