New laws to clarify the legal parentage and status of children born through assisted reproductive technologies (ART) have been proposed in Singapore. The Status of Children (Assisted Reproduction Technology) Bill 2011, which will be introduced to the Singapore Parliament early next year, has been published for public comment.
'The Bill is drafted on the premise that a child conceived through [ART] should only have a single set of parents, that is, a legal mother and legal father', said the Ministry of Law in a statement.
It will confer legal motherhood on the woman who carries or has carried the child as a result of ART, known as the gestational mother. If the couple is married and the husband's sperm is used, he will be treated as the legal father. Where donor sperm is used, then the husband will be the legal father if he has consented to the treatment or he accepts the child as 'a child of the marriage'.
Where the woman is unmarried, her partner (defined in the Bill 'as a man with whom the gestational mother was living in a relationship as if he was her spouse') may apply to court for a declaration of legal parenthood, if his sperm was used or he consented to the child being a child of the relationship.
In the UK, if an unmarried partner's sperm is used he is automatically considered the legal father – if donor sperm is used at a licensed clinic both parties in the relationship must give consent for the partner to be legally the father. Lesbian partners are also conferred legal parenthood in the UK if the couple underwent fertility treatment at a licensed clinic – automatically if in a civil partnership and by both parties' consent if not.
The Ministry of Law said reform to parenthood laws in Singapore is needed. 'It is timely to enact the Act given the increasing number of babies conceived through ART in Singapore. The popularity of ART has risen with medical advances to treat infertility, as well as a more affluent and aging population', it said.
'There is also a need for legal clarity in respect of issues concerning the legal status of children conceived and born where the wrong egg, sperm or embryo was used in the fertilisation procedure as a result of a mistake or negligence', it explained. In 2010, an alleged mix-up where the sperm used to conceive a child was not that of the husband's, as was intended, occurred at the Thomson Medical Centre, Singapore (reported in BioNews 583).
'In such a situation, there can be two couples who may lay claim to be the legal parents of the child, that is, the couple who underwent the ART treatment, and the couple whose sperm or egg or embryo was inadvertently used in the ART treatment', said the Ministry of Law. 'It is also possible that both couples may disclaim the child, and the child becomes effectively parentless', it said.
If the Bill becomes law, in cases where the wrong gamete or embryo has been used the gestational mother and her husband who consented to the ART treatment will be the legal parents of the child. The Bill also stipulates that an 'interested party' may apply to court within two years of the mistake for a declaration of legal parenthood. 'The intent is to ensure that the child is not left parentless in any situation', said the Ministry of Justice.
Dr Yu Su Ling, a senior consultant in obstetrics and gynaecology at Singapore General Hospital, told the Singaporean online news agency, Today, that the proposed legislation was probably the best arrangement where there was a mix-up, subject to any court order varying legal parenthood. 'It was the couple that wanted the baby and even if there is a mistake, the child has been born and will have a gestational father and mother', she said.
The Bill is open for consultation until 20 December.