15 June 2015
ByAppeared in BioNews 806
A working group from Surrogacy UK has devised an online survey seeking views on people's experiences of surrogacy in the UK and opinions on the way it is regulated. We want to hear from anyone with a personal interest in surrogacy, particularly women who have been surrogates (past or present), those who have had or hope to have children via surrogacy and others involved in the process (including the partners of surrogates). We are also looking for responses from those with a professional involvement in surrogacy, past or present, including but not limited to clinicians, fertility nurses, counsellors, lawyers, mediators, policymakers, academics and researchers - across all fields of inquiry: law, medicine, sociology, psychology, social work, social policy, philosophy, ethics and more.
We are undertaking this survey because, as a group, we think that while there are many things that are right about the way surrogacy is practised and regulated in the UK (particularly when compared to some other countries), there are also aspects of our laws that are outdated or just plain wrong. We are fortunate to live in a nation where surrogacy itself is not prohibited - yet it is perhaps troubling to see ever-increasing numbers of intended parents seeking surrogacy services overseas, and we would like more insight into the reasons why people go abroad for surrogacy, as well as any difficulties they encounter in doing so.
What is prohibited in this country (and in fact these are criminal offences) is advertising for or as a surrogate, or making a profit from surrogacy, either as an individual or as an agency (i.e. 'commercial' surrogacy). That said, there are some 'soft' prohibitions also - things that are not illegal, but which (in theory at least) make it impossible to become a parent through surrogacy. For example, single people are unable to legally become a parent of a child via surrogacy (see BioNews 793), as are couples where both partners are unable to provide gametes. This should also be the case if 'payments' (other than compensation for a surrogate's 'reasonable expenses') have been made, though we have seen time and again in recent years that the courts are prepared to retrospectively authorise money that has changed hands, so as to protect the welfare of the child (see BioNews 637, 676, 707). The legal mechanism used to grant parenthood status to those who use surrogacy - the Parental Order - is also supposedly unavailable without the surrogate's consent, although this too can sometimes be dispensed with, for example if she is unable to be found (see BioNews 676) or if a court views it to be in the best interests of the child not to remain with her (see BioNews 801) or if applied for later than six months after the birth of the child (see BioNews 774).
All this said, we believe there are some great examples of good practice out there, and some great advice being given. But we also understand that not everyone involved gets the benefit of this good practice all the time, as many of the cases that have come before the courts - or hit the media - over the last few years seem to indicate. We also appreciate that, for some, surrogacy is a controversial practice, an idea sharpened when unusual or difficult surrogacy stories hit the headlines, such as babies being left stateless and/or parentless, depending on where they were born (examples in BioNews 40, 490, 609), the Baby Gammy story (see BioNews 765) and other stories of abandonment (see BioNews 775), surrogates left behind after the devastating earthquake in Nepal (see BioNews 800) or a single British man using his own mother as a surrogate and ending up having to adopt his own 'brother' (see BioNews 793) - among many others. And, as indicated above, we know that the rules that do exist aren't always necessarily followed by the courts, particularly if that would disadvantage the child(ren) concerned.
When the law on other aspects of assisted reproduction was reformed in 2008, surrogacy was barely questioned, debated or touched, other than to extend the potential to apply for a Parental Order to those in civil partnerships or 'enduring family relationships', bringing this into line with other aspects of family law (and now including same-sex marriage). Since then some progress has been made, in that entitlements to maternity benefits have been reformed for those having children through surrogacy (see BioNews 683 and 685). For all the reasons stated in this piece and more, we want to get a clearer picture of both what is happening out there and of people's general views on the existing regulation of surrogacy. We want to begin to form a cohesive position on surrogacy, with a view to informing and promoting debate and potentially changing policy or law in the future, possibly following public consultation. But we don't want to do this without having well informed opinions behind us. We know what we as a group think about various aspects of practice and regulation of surrogacy (and we're not always in total agreement!); this suggests to us that experiences and viewpoints will be many and varied.
Please fill in the survey here. We look forward to seeing your answers and reporting on our findings. We will post updates on the survey's progress on the Twitter accounts of Surrogacy UK (@SurrogacyUKorg) and Kirsty Horsey (@khorsey). The survey will be open until 8 July.
The Surrogacy UK working group is composed of: Natalie Smith, mother of two children born through surrogacy and trustee of Surrogacy UK; Sarah Jones, surrogate and trustee of Surrogacy UK; Dr Kirsty Horsey, Senior Lecturer, Kent Law School; Sarah Norcross, director of the charity Progress Educational Trust; Louisa Ghevaert, partner, Michelmores LLP and Sabreena Mahroof, consultant trauma and orthopaedic surgeon and mother of two children born through surrogacy.