Non-Surgical Embryo Transfer (legal opinion)

The following opinion outlines the parameters under which embryo transfer can be performed in California. Although embryo transfer is a segmented process, as a whole it constitutes the practice of veterinary medicine and cannot be performed without supervision of a California licensed veterinarian.

Definition

Embryo transfer is a procedure whereby an embryo is removed from a donor cow and placed in the uterus of a recipient cow for the duration of gestation. The procedure is commenced by administering hormones to the donor cow to induce "superovulation" whereupon the animal is usually artificially bred. Approximately seven to ten days later, the transfer takes place by administering an epidural anesthesia to the donor cow and removing the fertilized ova by a manual procedure of directing a catheter through the cervix into the uterine horn. Several doses of small amounts of nutrient medial are placed into the uterine horn and then pulled out by either suction with a syringe or gravity flow. The media recovered from the uterine horns is searched for ova and those deemed viable are inserted into the recipient cow in a procedure similar to artificial insemination.

Section 4826 of the Business and Professions code provides that a person practices veterinary medicine when he or she does any of the following:

"...(c) administers a drug, medicine, appliance or application or treatment of whatever nature for the prevention, cure or relief of a wound, fracture, or bodily injury or disease of animals..." or "...(e) performs any manual procedures for the diagnosis of pregnancy, sterility or infertility upon livestock."

Assuming that embryo transfers are performed for purposes of breeding (e.g. to develop or improve a particular type of cow) rather than as a therapeutic means of attempting to alter a diseased or abnormal physical state (e.g. sterility), it would not fall within the provisions of subdivision (c) of section 4826. Thus, the manual procedure of withdrawal and insertion of the ova, for the purposes of breeding, is not for the purpose of preventing, curing or relieving a wound fracture or bodily injury or disease, but instead directed at a condition (i.e. to induce pregnancy in a healthy animal) and thus would not constitute the practice of veterinary medicine.

However, the manual determination of whether (1) a cow is fertile for purposes of determining its potential to act as a donor, or (2) a cow is "available (i.e. not pregnant) for purposes of being a recipient, and (3) the embryo transfer was successful (i.e. the recipient cow is pregnant) would constitute a manual procedure for the diagnosis of pregnancy, sterility or infertility within the provisions of section 4826 (e) and must be performed by a licensed veterinarian.

In regard to the administration of the epidural anesthesia, only a licensed veterinarian or registered veterinary technician is authorized to induce anesthesia and accordingly, an unlicensed person could not perform this procedure.

Conclusion

Bovine embryo transfer is a segmented process involving various procedures that occur over several days. Many of the procedure segments associated with embryo transfer, such as the removal and insertion of ova DO NOT constitute the practice of veterinary medicine and may be performed by unlicensed persons.

However, procedures such as the manual determination of pregnancy, sterility or infertility and anesthesia administration constitute the practice of veterinary medicine, and may only be performed by licensed veterinarians.

Since there are procedures involved with bovine embryo transfer that constitute the practice of veterinary medicine, an unlicensed person would be prohibited from conducting an embryo transfer independent of a licensed veterinarian.

Any questions regarding this policy should be directed to the Board's Legislation and Regulations Unit at (916) 263-2610.