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Wednesday, 27 February 1985
Page: 246


Senator ELSTOB —My question, which refers to the recent concern over the acquired immune deficiency syndrome virus and the in vitro fertilisation program and the artificial insemination by donor program, is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Health. Is the Minister able to confirm that special precautions are now used to screen donor sperm and ova for AIDS? Can the Minister say what effect the AIDS dilemma will have on those frozen embryos already in storage which were developed from donor sperm? Are precise records kept so that tracing can occur of both the individual donor and where that donor's gametes are placed within either of the two programs?


Senator GRIMES —Some concern has been expressed over the possibility of the AIDS virus being transmitted through the in vitro fertilisation program and the artificial insemination by donor programs. A study in the United States of America of some 10,000 artificial inseminations by donors using frozen semen has found no cases of the transmission of AIDS by this route. Obviously the risk is there hypothetically but we do not think it is very high. Nevertheless, the medical profession and the various authorities have taken steps to develop safeguards.

The introduction of precautions has varied between the States because of differences in their artificial insemination and in vitro fertilisation programs. It is also limited by the availability of the AIDS screening test from research teams. I cannot give details of the various steps that have been taken in each State, but, in general what happens is that donors of semen are being required to sign a declaration similar to that signed by blood donors, stating that they are not members of groups with a high risk of AIDS. Where the research teams are able to make tests for antibodies to the AIDS related virus available from their limited supplies, semen donors are also being screened by this method. The donor is screened again some months later before the semen is used. In some cases frozen semen donated before 1980, which can be presumed to be uncontaminated, is in fact used. Similar precautions are being instituted for donors of sperm in in vitro fertilisation programs. I understand that donor ova are not used in these programs. If donor embryos are used the donors will be screened for antibodies for AIDS. In all the in vitro fertilisation programs in this country precise records of donors are kept. So I believe that the precautions that have been taken in all the States are in fact rigorous in their attempts to ensure that this possible transmission of the virus will not occur.