In addition to the thousands of New South Wales couples who may see their chances of having a baby dashed by the new law that goes into effect today, there are other victims as well. Meet Otis Bone:
NICK BONE would give anything for his son. But from today, giving him a brother or sister could land him in jail. Long-awaited laws that come into force today giving recognition to parents of children born through surrogacy also have imposed penalties designed to protect overseas women from exploitation by families seeking commercial surrogacy. Penalties include up to two years’ imprisonment and fines of $275,000 for parents who have children through overseas commercial surrogacy arrangements.
The changes would force desperate would-be parents into ”underground” arrangements, said speakers at a forum last night organised by the group Australian Families Through Gestational Surrogacy. But Mr Bone’s biggest worry right now is what his 10-month-old son, Otis, will think when he discovers he was born through an arrangement the state has since decided is wrong. “I never wanted to lie to him about anything, but how will he feel knowing that when he is growing up?” Mr Bone asked. He did not believe Otis’s birth mother was exploited, as he had developed a relationship with her, talking regularly during the pregnancy, and had seen the benefits his money had provided.
The Greens MP David Shoebridge said the ban was a ”last-minute amendment”, introduced and voted on within 48 hours despite the rest of the legislation being crafted from years of community consultation. It would leave distraught families in its wake. The original bill banned commercial surrogacy in NSW, but Mr Shoebridge said the Greens had supported it because it was in line with community standards. However, he believed the issue was open for debate in the future.
Jenni Millbank, a law professor at the University of Technology, Sydney, said some people would still use overseas commercial surrogacy, either illegally or by moving to another state. She believed the law was implemented without proper consultation, and was unlikely to achieve its goal. A transnational accreditation system for surrogacy providers would be a better way of protecting birth mothers, she said.
A spokesman for the Attorney-General, John Hatzistergos, said it was important the ban on commercial surrogacy was not undermined or circumvented. Commercial arrangements had ”been roundly rejected by the National Health and Medical Research Council as well as lawmakers around Australia via the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General”, the spokesman said.
Lets hope clear-thinking lawmakers in New South Wales reconsider their hastily enacted prohibitions and repeal this law. Not just for Otis Bone, but for the thousands of NSW residents afflicted with infertility who only want the same chance most of us take for granted — the miracle of having a baby.
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