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Book Review: Without a Doubt - An Irish Couple's Journey Through IVF, Adoption and Surrogacy

15 May 2017
Appeared in BioNews 900

Without a Doubt: An Irish Couple's Journey Through IVF, Adoption and Surrogacy

By Fiona Whyte and Seán Malone

Published by Merrion Press

ISBN-10: 1785371185, ISBN-13: 978-1785371189

Buy this book from Amazon UK

When I was first asked to review this book, written by Fiona Whyte and Sean Malone, I can’t say that I was full of enthusiasm at the prospect. I had seen the television documentary, and heard some of the radio interviews and ensuing long discussions concerning the thorny issues raised by the authors.

Most Irish people who go down the path of assisted reproduction or surrogacy are immensely private about it. This couple were very different; their story was out in the public domain, they did not hold back. Their story attracted attention for many reasons including controversy over the age of the couple, the fact that they both had children from another relationship, the novelty of surrogacy, and the difficult decision the couple faced when it transpired that their surrogate was pregnant with triplets.

Having started the book, I quickly realised that reading it was not quite the chore I had originally envisaged. From a literary perspective I don’t believe that this book will win any awards. It is, however, a lovely story of a couple finding each other later in life and wanting more. They come across as a fun-loving and charismatic couple, their love for each other and the incredibly strong desire to have children together permeates the book.

In Ireland there is no legislation on surrogacy and abortion is not legal. The unborn have constitutional protection. Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution contains the following provision:

'The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.'

This provision was inserted into the Constitution as a result of a referendum held in 1983 and is known as the Eighth Amendment. A Citizens' Assembly was established on 2016 to consider the Eighth Amendment and report to the Government. The Assembly met between October 2016 and April 2017. The report is due to be presented to the Government in June 2017. In short, and pending any future referendum, abortion is only permissible in Ireland in very limited circumstances. Generally Irish women wishing to obtain abortion services have no option but to travel to England.

In the case of the authors, who used a surrogate in India, three embryos were transferred to their surrogate. They knew that a reduction or abortion would be performed if a triple pregnancy developed. The authors have spoken openly about the decision they had to make to abort one of the fetuses. In the context of the constitutional provision, this decision above all others was the subject of much public discussion, judgment and vitriol in their home country.

Throughout the book there is much criticism of the government of Ireland for failing to legislate for surrogacy and the narrow-mindedness of many of its inhabitants for judging them for what they did. I am not satisfied that all of this criticism is justified. Yes, legislation is long overdue, promises have been made and not kept. There is no doubt that many couples feel very let down by the State for failing to legislate. Women in particular are very hard done by - under the current regime there are no circumstances under which a woman can legally be a parent of a child born through surrogacy.

Since the children of the authors were born, new legislation - The Children and Family Relationship Act 2015 - became operational in February 2016. This contains provision which has enabled a commissioning mother in a surrogacy arrangement to apply to become a guardian, but not a parent, of a child born through surrogacy.

There is much speculation that the Minister for Health will publish a Bill containing legislative proposals for assisted human reproduction and surrogacy in June 2017. The real question is will couples having children through surrogacy be better off? It is apparent that the proposed legislation will ban commercial surrogacy and possibly make it a criminal offence. If this does come to pass, then couples such as the authors may be forever deprived of the opportunity to have a child.

The couple experienced some difficulties along the way, which resulted in them having to stay in India longer than they had anticipated. They are critical of the Irish Government and the Embassy in India for not dealing with their plight more expeditiously when issues arose, although it appears that some of their problems could have been circumvented had they taken professional advice. One issue in particular was that they did not obtain a medical visa, despite the requirement for one.

Apart from the legal issues raised by the authors, the reader is provided with a great insight into the Indian subcontinent, its workings, and its people, which the authors embraced. At times I had to remind myself that I was not reading a travel guide. India has recently placed restrictions on surrogacy arrangements for overseas parents (see BioNews 866), so much of the practical advice in the book may have little relevance in other jurisdictions where surrogacy is still permissible.

As such I do not believe that this book is essential reading to anyone contemplating going down the surrogacy route, but overall it provides a compelling insight into the lives of the authors and their trials and tribulations.

Buy Without a Doubt: An Irish Couple's Journey Through IVF, Adoption and Surrogacy from Amazon UK.

12 November 2018 - by Sarah Pritchard 
Improvements in the success rates of IVF treatment have been cited as part of the reason fewer people are choosing to adopt children in the UK, despite the number of children currently in care reaching a record high...
29 January 2018 - by Fiona Duffy 
The Minister for Health in Ireland on the 3 October 2017 disclosed a decision by Government to approve the drafting of a bill on assisted human reproduction (AHR) and associated research...
11 December 2017 - by Eleanor Taylor 
Despite concerted efforts to reduce the stigma surrounding fertility struggles, there still appears to be a 'facelessness' to this incredibly common issue, which suggests that fertility is still very much a taboo subject...
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