Ecart decision: Officials protect heritage of Māori child expected to be conceived via IVF

A Māori couple were allowed to donate embryos to help a lifelong friend of a different ethnicity have a baby in a decision that came with the caveat she explores “what it means to raise a child that is Māori”.

Any baby born as part of the arrangement would be the full biological child of the donor couple, full sibling to their existing children and have no genetic link to the friend, the child’s mother.

Officials are working to protect the Māori heritage of the child. According to the decision by the Ethics Committee on Assisted Reproductive Technology, both parties intended to share the child’s whakapapa with them.

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The decision said the donor couple had embryos left over from their own IVF treatment after completing their family and wished to donate to the friend. The woman was comfortable having a child who had no genetic link to her.

“The committee noted that any resulting children will be Māori and a different ethnicity to the recipient woman. The committee noted that although the parties intend to share and support the knowledge of any resulting children’s whakapapa, consideration of the difference in ethnicity and what it means to raise a child that is Māori has not been explicitly explored in counselling sessions. The committee would like to be assured that this has been explored and acknowledged through counselling.

“The Committee agreed to approve this application and note that the committee encourages the Māori heritage of any resulting children is further explored in counselling.”

Ecart said it would also need to be assured that consideration of the difference in ethnicity between the mother and baby would also be discussed in counselling sessions.

All parties had agreed to be open with any resulting child and the donor couple’s existing children.

“The application also notes that the parties have good support from their immediate family for the proposed donation.”

The decision acknowledged there was a clear medical reason for the woman undertaking treatment with donated embryos.

It also noted that the application did not contain a reference to guardianship and considered it to be important to have in place given the recipient woman’s single status.

Ecart secretariat Hayley Robertson told the Herald it did not keep records of how many applications involved embryo donors who were of a different ethnicity to the recipient. But another recent decision tells of a couple – one of whom is Maori – who also had embryos created from their own IVF treatment and wanted to donate them to a couple of a different ethnicity. They had connected with them via a fertility clinic.

“The donor couple have children born from the embryos and consider their family to be complete,” the decision said.

“They would like to give their remaining embryos a chance at life. They discussed the importance of any resulting children growing up with awareness of their Māori whānau and the ability to connect with their whakapapa through the proposed donation arrangement.”

The recipient couple already had an adopted child and felt it would be better for that child if a new baby also had no genetic link to them. But the committee pointed to its donation and surrogacy guidelines which state “the procedure is the best or the only opportunity for intending parents to have a child”. They queried whether the couple had considered using the woman’s eggs.

The committee said Covid-19 had meant some counselling was done online and it wanted to see issues, including how any resulting children’s knowledge about their Māori heritage might be supported and safeguarded, explored in a face-to-face session. The application was deferred.

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