As we enter 2020 and countries continue to grapple with the issues raised by donor-conception and surrogacy, reflection on recent 'consultations' and 'reviews' by government, not-for-profit and United Nations (UN) organisations around the world reveal that meaningful inclusion of the voices of people born as a result of such practices is often lacking.
Despite the well-intentioned calls for increased focus on children's rights and/or their 'best-interests' in consultations and reviews, these efforts may be overshadowed by the demands and experiences of 'intended parents', claims that surrogacy or donation 'may be the only way for people to have children who have a genetic link to them' or a focus on the transfer of legal parentage, rather than long term outcomes for donor-conceived or surrogacy-born people.
In addition, strong lobbying in favour of transnational commercial arrangements continues, despite many such arrangements raising significant concerns about women and children's rights.
It is therefore significant that during the celebrations of the 30th Anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) for the first time a large group of donor-conceived and surrogacy born children were able to present to members of the UN and the wider international community on issues of utmost importance to their lives.
Organised by Stephanie Raeymaekers, a donor-conceived person and leader of the support group DonorKinderen from Belgium, and Dr Sonia Allan, who has researched and written extensively in the field, a total of 16 donor-conceived and surrogacy-born people from around the globe (1), spoke in the UN's Palace of Nations, Geneva, Switzerland about their lived experiences. Other donor-conceived people travelled from around the globe to be in the audience for this critical event.
With the resounding catch-cry 'not about us, without us', the presentation centred around seven questions, decided upon collectively by donor-conceived and surrogacy-born people around the world via consultation and a survey conducted by the organisers:
1. What if you are surrogacy-born and have known and had contact with your biological birth mother and siblings all your life?
2. What if you know you are donor-conceived but don't know who your biological parent(s) or siblings are?
3. What if the government is complicit in keeping your identity a secret and your birth certificate is a lie?
4. What if you discovered you have tens or hundreds of siblings?
5. What if your biological mother/father/sibling has a medical condition you know nothing about?
6. What if you wonder if you are related to everyone who looks like you or the person you are dating?
7. What if you felt like part of a living experiment in which your human rights don't matter?
Each of the donor-conceived or surrogacy-born presenters then reflected upon selected questions sharing their own lived experiences. As each question was explored it became apparent that many donor-conceived and surrogacy-born people are denied fundamental rights under the UNCRC.
For surrogacy-born and donor-conceived people, most will never have access to information about their genetic heritage, are unlikely to ever meet or know their birth mother or biological parent(s), have unknown family medical histories, and may have tens or hundreds of siblings. Concerns were also raised that transnational commercial surrogacy arrangements continue to see children born to impoverished women, some of whom may also have been trafficked; and that some children born with disabilities have been abandoned by the 'intending parents'.
In contrast, it was also seen that when human rights are upheld good outcomes can result. This was illustrated by one of the presenters, born as a result of an altruistic surrogacy arrangement, who had known and had relationships all her life with her surrogate mother (who is also her genetic mother) and her genetically related siblings (both donor-conceived and surrogacy-born living with the surrogate mother and other families). Unfortunately, her story was not reported to be a commonly shared experience amongst the presenters or the larger network of donor-conceived and surrogacy born people worldwide.
The presentations were met with rapturous applause and a standing ovation by the audience, several of whom had been moved to tears by the stories. Several recommendations were made to the UN and its member states that emerged from the event. Specifically:
'There is a need for urgent national and international measures, which are inclusive of and made in consultation with a broad representation of donor-conceived and surrogacy born persons. These voices need to be heard, listened to and acted upon.
States should create international and national frameworks and laws that:
1. Ensure the right of donor-conceived and surrogacy-born children to access information about their identity and origins regardless of when these children were conceived and born and to preserve relations with their biological, social and gestational families.
2. Ensure that comprehensive and complete records of all parties involved in the conception of the child be held by the State in perpetuity for future generations.
3. Respect and promote the full and effective enjoyment of all the rights of donor-conceived and surrogacy-born children in both the immediate and longer terms.
4. Ensure that the best interests of the child be the paramount consideration in all relevant laws, policies and practices and in any judicial and administrative decisions. This should include, but is not limited to, pre-conception assessments/screening of donors, intended parents, and surrogates and post-birth follow up/review that upholds the best interests of the child as paramount.
5. Prohibit all forms of commercialisation of gametes, children, and surrogates including, but not limited to, the sale and trafficking in persons and gametes.
The message at the 30th Anniversary of the UNCRC was loud and clear: the fact that any one child denied their human rights is unacceptable, the reality that tens of thousands of children are having their rights denied cannot be ignored.
The question that remains to be answered in 2020 is whether the world at large will act to ensure that the rights of donor-conceived and surrogacy born people are upheld. It is time their voices are included and heard.
(1) Stephanie Raeymaekers (Belgium); Gee Roberts, Jo Lloyd; Joanna Rose (UK); Albert Frantz (US; Austria); Joey Hoofdman (Netherlands); Sebastiana Gianci (US); Sharni Wilson (New Zealand); Catarina Almaeda (Portugal; Angola); Matty Wright; Beth Wright, Damian Adams, Hayley Smith, Courtney Du Toit, Myfwanwy Cummerford; Sarah Dingle (Australia).