Page URL:

South Africa shows a way to ensure more predictability in surrogacy arrangements

9 January 2012
By Annabel Christie
Founding partner of A H Christie Legal LLP, solicitors specialising in fertility law and embryo storage law
Appeared in BioNews 639
A new surrogacy law in South Africa suggests a way to improve those in the UK – by making surrogacy agreements enforceable. In the UK, commissioning parents can only find out after the child is born if they can become the legal parents. However the new South African legislation makes it possible to establish that the commissioning parents will become the legal parents before embarking on the surrogacy process.

UK law governing surrogacy is complex, and not always predictable. In certain circumstances - for instance if the surrogate mother changes her mind and wants to keep the child - the would-be parents (who may also be the genetic parents) have no rights.

Further uncertainty is introduced by changing interpretations of the restrictive UK legislation. In a recent case, a commissioning father died after the embryo had been implanted, but before the child was born. Normally, it is stipulated that two commissioning parents are required for a surrogacy to work, and so without the commissioning father there was some doubt over what would happen. Fortunately, and somewhat unexpectedly, the UK family court held that the commissioning mother could become the legal mother of the child, despite UK legislation governing surrogacy making no provisions for single parents.

This type of uncertainty results because, in the UK, commissioning parents have to apply to a court after the child is born. This is in contrast to countries such as South Africa, where a new Act provides that surrogacy agreements meeting certain criteria are valid before artificial fertilisation of the surrogate mother is carried out.

Under the South Africa Children's Act 2005, which came into force in 2010, an agreement could be validated by the High Court before the surrogacy is undertaken. This brings certainty to the commissioning parent(s) as they can now be treated as the legal parents of the child right from the start of the process. This reduces worry, stress and expense.

Furthermore, the South African legislation also provides certainty for surrogate mothers - once the surrogacy agreement has been approved they cannot be left with a child that is not genetically theirs.

As well as providing certainty, this legislation also puts parents that need to use surrogates on a more equal footing with natural parents. Importantly, the South African court took the view that people who have to go through the surrogacy process should not be held to a higher standard than natural parents.

In particular, it is now possible for single people who need to use a surrogate to become the commissioning parent, just as single people can become single parents through circumstance. This approach could be persuasive in the UK where judges are currently trying to come to terms with rapid developments in modern society, where there is not only a growing numbers of single parents, but also more people who can only become parents via surrogacy.

Finally, in the context of surrogacy, the principle of non-discrimination, something taken seriously in the 'rainbow nation', was extended to allow gay couples to become the parents of a child born to a surrogate mother.

To me, it is easy to see how providing more certainty would be welcomed by both parties – it gives the commissioning parents the certainty they will become the legal parents, and the surrogate mother the certainty she will not be left 'holding the baby'.

Here, we will have to wait and see whether the Government will legislate to bring the UK surrogacy laws in line with these developments. In the meantime, UK courts will have to do their best with current legislation – and the new South African judgment may well be persuasive in some cases.

Ex parte: WH and Others (29936/11) [2011] ZAGPPHC 185; 2011 (6) SA 514 (GNP)
Southern African Legal Information Institute |  21 September 2011
14 July 2014 - by Ayesha Ahmad 
South Africa has a hidden problem: suicides of women who are unable to conceive...
16 September 2013 - by Louisa Ghevaert 
Two recent surrogacy disputes have emerged from Wisconsin, in the United States, and South Africa which highlight the challenging legal and practical issues surrogacy can create....
23 April 2012 - by Dr Lux Fatimathas 
Former shadow health secretary Mr John Healey has called for mothers of children conceived using a surrogate to be given equal maternity pay, leave and rights as other mothers. Currently mothers who use surrogates are entitled to 13 weeks unpaid leave, in contrast to mothers who adopt or conceive themselves, who are entitled to 52 weeks leave with 39 weeks maternity pay....
5 March 2012 - by Daniel Malynn 
Hosted by 7 Bedford Row chambers, this intellectually stimulating event highlighted the uncertainty and lack of consensus around surrogacy law. However, such was the emphasis on surrogacy the event title was never formally answered. Yet I nevertheless came away with the feeling that some key issues in surrogacy, applicable to the wider agenda of assisted reproduction, were thoroughly explored. Moreover, it established some momentum to press for law reform in the area....
12 December 2011 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
The UK's High Court has granted parental orders to a couple over two children born through an international surrogacy arrangement, ruling that payments made to the Indian surrogates were not 'disproportionate'...
14 November 2011 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
A High Court in South Africa has set out guidelines for judicial approaches to surrogacy arrangements in light of new family law legislation which came into force last year....
12 September 2011 - by Natalie Gamble 
Theresa Erickson, a high profile Californian attorney specialising in assisted reproduction law (self-styled online and in the media as 'the surrogacy lawyer') pleaded guilty last month to charges relating to her involvement in a baby selling scam. The case has sent shock waves through the US assisted reproduction law community, which is reeling at the disgrace of one of its best known members...
8 August 2011 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
The UK's High Court has awarded legal parenthood to a deceased father of a child born through a surrogacy arrangement in India....
to add a Comment.

By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions

Syndicate this story - click here to enquire about using this story.