Earlier this week we blogged about the plight of 15 Irish children who were delivered by international surrogates. Today, an Irish Justice Minister announced that guidelines will be issued next month to provide assistance to the parents of these children as well as any others who are caught in legal limbo because of the origins of their birth:
MINISTER FOR Justice Alan Shatter is to publish official guidelines next month to assist parents who plan to have children via surrogate mothers abroad in a move aimed at preventing babies ending up in “legal limbo”.
However, he was unable to say when long-promised legislation for the wider area of assisted human reproduction would be published.
Mr Shatter told The Irish Times that pressure on the Government in drawing up legal changes linked to the EU-IMF bailout meant there was no guarantee of when legislation would be ready.
He said a “consultative process” has begun between officials in the various Government departments and hoped significant progress would be made next year.
His comments come at a time of growing concern for the welfare of 15 children born by surrogacy abroad who are now either stateless or unable to get passports.
One Irish couple who had a surrogate child in the US three years ago – and are still unable to secure legal recognition as the child’s parents – are planning to take a case to the European Court of Human Rights over the State’s failure to legislate in this area.
The couple, who have declined to be named and have since relocated to London, say their right to family life is being infringed due to the lack of specific legal provisions which allow them to become their child’s parents.
“It’s difficult to put into the words the stress of all of this,” said the child’s intended mother (36) who works in London’s financial district. “We can’t leave Ireland or the US. We’re not our daughter’s legal parents. As of now, we are minding a US citizen who is regarded as an illegal immigrant in the eyes of the law.”
The couple’s legal adviser, UK lawyer and international surrogacy expert Anne-Marie Hutchinson, said the couple appeared to have good grounds to take a case to Europe. “The key issue is, has Ireland done enough to protect this couple’s right to family life,” Ms Hutchinson said. “You can’t just turn a blind eye to surrogacy. You can make provision for it in law, or make it illegal, but you can’t ignore it.” There are laws in the UK which allow the intended parents of a child born by surrogacy to become legal parents within six months of the child’s birth. However, the Irish couple did not satisfy this requirement.
Ms Hutchinson is a founder of the International Surrogacy Forum, a gathering of legal experts which is lobbying for the introduction of an international convention to give greater protection to parents, children and donors involved in the surrogacy process.
Mr Shatter, meanwhile, laid the blame for the lack of legislation in this area at the door of previous governments and insisted the current administration was committed to putting legislation in place.
“This is a complex area which other countries have addressed, and it’s an issue which successive predecessor governments have chosen to ignore,” he said. “We hope to develop legislation in 2012 . . . but it’s not a straightforward issue and it’s important that people understand the legal issues facing them before embarking on surrogacy arrangements.” While a previous government established the Commission on Assisted Human Reproduction in 2000 to advise on legislation in this area, nothing has been done since.
Deirdre Madden, a senior law lecturer in UCC and a former member of the commission, said yesterday she was disappointed at the failure to implement the group’s 40 recommendations. “It it taking way too long and governments have been a little bit complacent by leaving it to the Irish fertility system’s own professional regulations,” she said. “These regulations can’t resolve issues like the status of children born by surrogacy or the right of access to the identity of sperm or egg donors.”