It voted 83 to 77 against a draft recommendation to create 'European guidelines to safeguard children's rights in relation to surrogacy arrangements', prepared by rapporteur Professor Petra De Sutter, a member of the Flemish Green Party.
The report included proposals to ban 'for-profit' surrogacy as well as recommending that the Council of Ministers work with the Hague Conference on Private International Law (HCCH) on private international law issues concerning children born through surrogacy arrangements, including legal parenthood.
Distinct from the European Union, the Council of Europe was set up in 1949 by various European states, including the UK, to promote democracy and human rights. While it has itself no law-making power, it performs an advocacy role and campaigns on rights issues. Its parliament includes MPs from national parliaments across the European Union, Turkey and Russia.
It was not the first time the Council of Europe has declined to draw up guidelines on surrogacy, a topic on which there is divided opinion across Europe. A previous vote against the draft report by the Council of Europe's Social Affairs and Health Committee in March was preceded by a protest rally in Paris against surrogacy.
In the latest draft recommendation, Professor de Sutter said she believed that members of the Committee were 'too divided on the human rights and ethical issues related to surrogacy' and that she did not believe a 'majority exists on whether or not altruistic surrogacy arrangements should be allowed'. As such, the report was updated to relate only to for-profit surrogacy and its impact on children.
Professor de Sutter said that she did not herself believe that altruistic surrogacy arrangements should be prohibited. It had been alleged that her support for certain surrogacy practices and connections to clinics in India represented a conflict of interest but these allegations were dismissed by the Committee in January this year.
Earlier this year, over 100,000 European citizens signed a petition for PACE to vote in support of a ban on surrogacy, while the European Parliament of the EU passed a resolution condemning all forms of surrogacy in December 2015. In Italy, 50 'lesbian and activist women' signed a petition last month against 'the commercialisation of women's bodies', reports The European Post.
Surrogacy remains regulated at a national level across Europe. In the UK, surrogacy is permitted while 'commercial' surrogacy is prohibited by legislation. But some countries, including France and Italy, adopt more restrictive approaches. In January the Italian interior minister, Angelino Alfano, sparked controversy over comments that people who use surrogacy should be treated as sex offenders and sent to prison (see BioNews 834).
Meanwhile, thousands of people have reportedly marched in Paris this month against same-sex marriage and the use of surrogacy to help same-sex couples conceive. Surrogacy is not permitted in France, but the government has been told by the European Court of Human Rights to recognise children born through surrogacy (see BioNews 761). Following this ruling, the country's top civil court ruled that children born overseas via assisted reproduction can be adopted by same-sex parents (see BioNews 773).