Unmarried non-Muslim couples can undergo IVF treatment in the UAE, after a change to the law.
The new decree allows couples who are not married to apply for the procedure, providing they agree to register the child under both their names.
Muslim couples have to show proof of marriage before they undergo IVF.
“If there's no marriage certificate, non-Muslim individuals can seek permission from the health authority to utilise IVF techniques,” said article 8 of the ruling, which was published in the Official Gazette.
This change is part of a wider UAE effort to update laws in line with the needs of all those living in the country.
First, couples must "submit an acknowledgement confirming the child's lineage is attributed to either of them.”
This declaration would then be approved by the relevant authority from either spouse's home country, which would also be the nationality the child would adopt.
Once approved, the process can begin.
New rulings on medically assisted reproduction
The new ruling has also removed a clause that made it illegal for couples to use the help of another woman to carry their child.
Previously the law stated that it was forbidden to perform “external insemination between a sperm taken from the husband and an egg taken from the wife, then implanting the fertilised egg in the womb of another wife of the husband”.
That clause has now been removed, opening the door for each emirate to regulate the rules of surrogacy for itself.
Surrogacy is forbidden in much of the Middle East, although it is allowed in Iran – providing that both the surrogate and the parents-to-be are married.
The assisted reproduction amendments also regulate the use of both embryos and eggs.
Until recently, the freezing of embryos was banned in the UAE. This is no longer the case.
“It is permissible to fertilise a number of eggs sufficient for the transplantation more than once, in accordance with the conditions and controls specified by the executive regulations of this law,” the part of the new law on preserving and incubating eggs and embryos says.
“Fertilised eggs may be preserved so that the number required for transplantation can be extracted when needed, for a period of five years, which can be extended for similar periods based on a written request submitted by the spouses.
“When there is no need for the remaining eggs or a legal or medical impediment occurs that prevents their implantation, these fertilised eggs will be left without medical care until they deteriorate naturally, unless the spouses request otherwise.”
A 2021 report from market research company Colliers put the infertility rate in the UAE at 15 per cent, split evenly between men and women.
More than $200 million is spent in the Emirates each year on fertility treatment, compared with $300 million in Saudi Arabia – with more than three times the population – and $500 million in Egypt, according to the report.
It remains illegal to have a sperm donor who is not the husband or an egg donor other than the wife.
“Fertilised eggs that have not been implanted must be destroyed in the following cases: The death of one of the spouses, the end of the marital relationship, submitting a destruction request from both spouses or expiration of the storage period without requesting an extension,” the law says.
“Unfertilised eggs and frozen sperm must be destroyed in the following cases: Death of the concerned, submitting a request for destruction from the concerned parties or expiry of the storage period without requesting an extension.”
In other recent changes, Abu Dhabi issued a law in October last year that recognised the right of single mothers to register their children without the need for a father or a marriage certificate.