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Health

Ottawa proposes easing of sperm donation rules, new surrogacy regulations

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OTTAWA — The Trudeau government proposed new regulations Friday that would lift a ban on men who have sex with other men from donating their sperm anonymously to Canadians struggling with infertility.

The proposed changes, up for review through public consultations, could also see surrogate mothers reimbursed for more of the expenses they face in trying to help people build their families, including loss of income.

Those new regulations under the Assisted Human Reproduction Act, if enacted, will help protect the health and safety of women and children, says Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor.

“They will also offer couples dealing with infertility, single people, same-sex couples and other members of the LGBTQ2 community flexibility in building their families,” the minister said in a statement.

For Canadians donating eggs, or ova, and sperm, the government wants to create a new direct-donation process.

All donors would be screened, tested and physically examined to see if they are suitable to donate.

Those providing direct donations, however, would not automatically be considered unsuitable if screening would have excluded them from donating under the regular process.

But in those cases, medical professionals would have to show in writing that they informed recipients of the risks of accepting donations and that recipients provided “informed consent.”

The government is also proposing lifting a lifetime ban on anonymous sperm donations from men who have sex with other men, allowing them to donate after six months.

The Assisted Human Reproduction Act came into force in 2004 but some parts have since been deemed unconstitutional.

Critics have complained the law creates costs and inconvenience for intended parents who need help in birthing children, while failing to manage risks.

Lawyer Karen Busby, a professor and academic director at the University of Manitoba’s Centre for Human Rights Research, welcomed the regulatory proposals.

But it has taken far too long to produce the regulations, said Busby, who has written extensively about human reproduction law.

“It’s already been 14 years (without surrogacy regulations) and the last consultations were two years ago and we’re hearing from them now,” said Busby.

“By anyone’s measure that’s got to be too long.”

It is currently illegal to pay for sperm or eggs donated in Canada, but would-be Canadian parents can buy them from fertility clinics in the United States where compensation is legal.

As well, surrogate parents in Canada aren’t allowed to charge for their services, but can be reimbursed for limited medical or other expenses.

Those expenses aren’t currently defined under regulation but have been allowed through Health Canada turning a blind eye to them being paid, Busby noted.

The government is now proposing to establish “broad categories of expenditures that could be reimbursed,” Health Canada said in a statement.

The proposal would see sperm or ova donors, surrogates, or someone maintaining and transporting in-vitro embryos paid for expenses they incur, such as for travel, or legal or counselling services.

Other categories of eligible expenses could include accommodation, obtaining medical records, costs related to changing health or life and disability insurance, associated drugs or devices, maternity clothes, counselling and legal services and care of dependents, officials said.

The Liberals are also proposing reimbursing surrogate mothers who incur “a loss of work-related income due to her pregnancy.”

Such reimbursements could range from paying for a half day’s income lost as a result of a doctor’s appointment to topping up Employment Insurance maternity benefits, said Health Canada officials who briefed reporters on the proposals Friday.

While the list of reimbursable expenses is comprehensive, the red tape involved in actually being reimbursed appears burdensome, said Busby.

“Before payment, the surrogate must present to the payors, who are usually the intended parents, documentation, including a recommendation from a doctor that the expense be paid,” she noted.

“The payor must retain the documents for six years. The government can require that this documentation be submitted to them for review. These requirements are quite onerous.”

Liberal MP Anthony Housefather introduced a private member’s bill in the spring that would make it legal for egg and sperm donors to be paid.

The legislation, Bill C-404, has yet to pass first reading in the House of Commons.

Officials said there has only been once case in Canada where a woman running an agency was charged under the Act and fined for offering surrogate pregnancy services for money.

Consultations on the proposed new regulations are to close Jan. 10, 2019.

 

Terry Pedwell, The Canadian Press

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Alberta

Covid no longer means special measures. Province brings treatment in line with flu and other viruses

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Adapting COVID-19 measures to support Albertans

With strong vaccine uptake, Alberta will gradually bring COVID-19 measures in line with other respiratory viruses to ensure health system capacity for the fall.

Nearly 75.6 per cent of eligible Albertans have now received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, and 64.3 per cent are fully immunized. Vaccines dramatically reduce the risk of severe outcomes and the risk of infection. While COVID-19 cases may rise in the coming months, a surge of hospitalizations and other severe outcomes is much less likely thanks to vaccines.

In the coming weeks, Alberta’s health system will take steps to make sure that it is ready to support all patients, including those with COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses, like influenza, which health officials expect to increase this year.

As a part of this, Alberta will bring COVID-19 quarantine, isolation, and other measures in line with those used for influenza and other viruses.

Testing for severe cases, provincial monitoring, outbreak management in high-risk settings, and other key measures will remain in place. Health officials will be able to adapt as needed if hospitalizations due to COVID-19 spike in the future.

“Our health system will keep protecting Albertans who are exposed to COVID-19 while also ensuring that we are able to handle all other viruses and illnesses. As the majority of us are vaccinated against COVID-19, we are adapting to make sure that the health system is ready to care for all Albertans, whatever their illness. Please get vaccinated to help protect your health and the health of those around you.”

Tyler Shandro, Minister of Health

“Our top priority is supporting the health of Albertans. COVID-19 is still with us but we are now in a place where we need to manage it through vaccinations and the proven public health measures used for other communicable viruses. We expect to see increased influenza and other viruses this year, and these changes will make sure the health system is ready and able to support all Albertans in the months ahead.”

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, chief medical officer of health

A two-phase transition will be used to safely monitor the impact of the initial changes, adapt as needed over the next few weeks, and give more time to vaccinate Albertans.

The following changes will be effective July 29:

  • Quarantine for close contacts will shift from mandatory to recommended. Isolation for anyone with COVID-19 symptoms and for confirmed positive cases is still required.
    • Unimmunized individuals who know they have been exposed to COVID-19 should monitor for symptoms and seek testing if they become symptomatic.
    • Anyone who is not fully immunized should avoid high-risk locations such as continuing care facilities and crowded indoor spaces if they have been in contact with a case in the past 14 days.
  • All positive cases will continue to be notified. Contact tracers will no longer notify close contacts of exposure. Individuals are asked to inform their close contacts when informed of their positive result.
  • Contact tracers will continue to investigate cases that are in high-risk settings such as acute and continuing care facilities.
  • Outbreak management and identification will focus on high-risk locations, including continuing and acute care facilities and high-risk workplaces. Community outbreaks with a surge in cases leading to severe outcomes will also be addressed as needed.
  • Asymptomatic testing is no longer recommended. Testing will continue to be available for individuals who are symptomatic.
  • Mandatory masking remains in acute and continuing care facilities, publicly accessible transit, taxis and ride-share.

The following changes will take effect on Aug. 16:

  • Provincial mandatory masking orders will be lifted. Some masking in acute care or continuing care facilities may still be required.
  • Isolation following a positive COVID-19 test result will no longer be required, but strongly recommended.
    • Individuals with symptoms of any respiratory infection should still remain at home until symptoms have resolved.
    • Staying home when sick remains an important way to care for those around us by not passing on any infection.
  • Isolation hotels and quarantine support will no longer be available.
  • Testing will be available for Albertans with symptoms when it is needed to help direct patient care decisions.
    • This testing will be available through assessment centres until Aug. 31 and, after that, will be in primary care settings including physicians’ offices. For those with severe illness requiring urgent or emergency care, testing will be available in acute care and hospital settings.
    • COVID-19 testing will also be offered as needed in high-risk outbreaks such as in continuing care facilities.
  • Public health will focus on investigating severe cases that require hospitalization and any deaths due to COVID-19.
  • Outbreak management and preventative measures will continue focusing on outbreaks in high-risk settings, such as continuing and acute care facilities.
    • Community outbreaks will continue to be addressed as needed.
    • Daycares and schools will be supported with measures that would be effective for any respiratory virus if outbreaks are identified.

Health officials will continue to closely monitor hospitalizations and other severe outcomes due to COVID-19 in the province. Additional measures will be taken, as needed, in specific facilities or areas where an outbreak is occurring leading to severe outcomes.

Universal masking will not be required in schools once students return. However, it is recommended as a temporary outbreak intervention in response to respiratory outbreaks. A guidance document to support return to schools is being finalized and will be released in mid-August.

A wastewater baseline testing program will also be launched to provide area trend information and monitor variants of concern. More details will be released in the coming weeks.

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Alberta

Alberta supporting mental-health programs for residential school survivors

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RED DEER, Alta. — The Alberta government says it’s putting up nearly $8-million for Indigenous-led mental-health programs that will include support to help residential school survivors and their families heal.

Health Minister Tyler Shandro says almost $2.9 million will go to First Nations, Métis Settlements, and the Métis Nation of Alberta.

Community members will be able to apply for one-time grants of up to $50,000 per group for individual and family counselling or traditional healing and talking circles.

Shandro said the remaining money will be given to an Alberta Health Services Indigenous program that provides culturally appropriate health services for Indigenous people.

The funding announcement follows recent discoveries of unmarked graves at residential school sites that continue to traumatize Canada’s Indigenous Peoples.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 22, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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