As the UAE continues its efforts to update laws to meet the needs of all its residents, there are some new changes in fertility legislation which include: widening IVF treatment to everyone, couples can now use a surrogate to carry their baby, and egg freezing laws have advanced. On the occasion of National Day, we talk to fertility experts from Nabta Health on the topic.
- How are the new changes transformative to the UAE and the region? What are the next steps?
The recent legislative changes in the UAE are transformative for couples seeking fertility treatments in the UAE, and for the wider fertility industry across the region. The changes to the law give couples more rights and options in terms of surrogacy and IVF outside marriage, and are likely to lead to increased access to fertility treatments, an expanded range of fertility treatments, and increased investment in fertility research and development.
Specifically, the changes to the law in the UAE provide:
- Increased access to fertility treatments: The new law gives unmarried, non-Muslim couples access to IVF and other fertility treatments for the first time. Fertility preservation options are extended to individuals and couples who may not be ready to have children at the moment, but who want the option of having children in the future.
- Increased investment in fertility research and development: The UAE is a regional leader in fertility research and development. The new law is likely to encourage more investment in this area, which could lead to the development of new and more effective fertility treatments.
- Increased popularity of the UAE as a destination for fertility treatment: The UAE is already a major hub for medical tourism in the region. The new law is likely to make the UAE an even more attractive destination for couples seeking fertility treatment.
- What are the key points couples in the UAE should know?
Some of the key medical points that all couples in the UAE should know according to Article 8 of the new ruling published in the Official Gazette, are as follows:
- Surrogacy is permitted for married couples who are unable to conceive a child on their own. It is still illegal to use a sperm donor other than the husband, or an egg donor other than the wife.
- The surrogate mother must be a UAE citizen or resident between the ages of 25 and 35. She must have a healthy medical history, with no criminal record, and be deemed physically and mentally capable of carrying the pregnancy to term.
- Unmarried, non-Muslim couples (along with married Muslim and non-Muslim couples) can now seek permission from the health authorities to pursue IVF. Eggs and embryos may be preserved for up to 5 years, with the possibility of extensions based on written requests from the involved parties.
All surrogacy and fertility treatments are required to be carried out at licensed clinics, with the proper guidelines in place to ensure safe and ethical practices. Changes to the law are designed to protect the rights of both the surrogate mother and the intended parents.
- How might these legislative changes affect women’s health and wellness in the UAE, particularly in terms of reproductive rights and options?
The recent legislative changes in the UAE are closely aligned to its broader societal and economic goals of bolstering population health and wellness, attracting international talent, fostering a diverse and inclusive society, and promoting gender equality.
By making it easier for women to access surrogacy and fertility treatments, the UAE is making itself a more attractive destination for international talent. Women can enter the workforce with confidence that their health and wellness needs, particularly those surrounding their reproductive rights and options, will be met. This is important as the UAE is a rapidly growing economy and needs to attract skilled workers from all over the world.
By allowing unmarried, non-Muslim couples to access surrogacy and fertility treatments, the UAE is acknowledging the diverse needs of its equally diverse population.
Finally, by giving women more control over their reproductive future, the UAE is reaffirming its commitment to empower women, provide more woman-centric options for health and wellness, and enable women to participate fully in society.
- Are there any concrete efforts or plans to overcome societal taboos around IVF or surrogacy?
Will there be any awareness campaigns? As of 11 November 2023, and following the recent changes to the law in the UAE, detailed plans to overcome the societal taboos around IVF and surrogacy are yet to be finalised. There is an expectation that these plans will be published soon, but there is no set timeline for their release.
To help overcome societal taboos, there will need to be changes across the healthcare ecosystem - from the type of coverage and messaging offered by insurance providers, to the policies and procedures of healthcare providers, to the practices of individual clinics.
Examples of ways in which the ecosystem as a whole will need to adapt include:
- Developing a clear understanding of the new law and its requirements. This includes understanding the eligibility criteria for surrogacy and IVF outside of marriage, the process for obtaining a surrogacy license, and the requirements for surrogacy contracts.
- Developing policies and procedures to support surrogacy and new IVF clients. This includes developing policies for screening and selecting surrogate mothers, managing the surrogacy process, and providing support to intended parents and surrogate mothers.
- Training staff on the new law and how to support surrogacy and new IVF clients. This includes training staff on the eligibility criteria for surrogacy and IVF outside of marriage, the surrogacy process, and the legal and ethical considerations involved in surrogacy.
In addition to these specific adaptations, healthcare providers may need to make more general changes to their culture and environment to be more welcoming and supportive of surrogacy and new IVF clients. For example, they may need to develop marketing materials that are specifically targeted to surrogacy clients and they may need to train their front desk staff on how to handle inquiries from surrogacy clients.