How Can We Make Surrogacy Law Deliver?
Surrogacy - the practice where one woman carries a child for another couple or person - is one of the oldest solutions to infertility, with some forms of surrogacy dating back at least 4,000 years. The development of IVF expanded the possibilities for surrogacy further, making it possible for a surrogate to carry a pregnancy when conception is achieved using another woman's eggs (rather than the surrogate's own). Recent decades have seen substantial changes to practices and attitudes concerning surrogacy, both nationally and internationally, but UK law has struggled to keep up.
The main legislation that governs surrogacy in the UK is the Surrogacy Arrangements Act, which is now more than 30 years old. This Act sought to outlaw commercial surrogacy arrangements, following a media storm surrounding the case of Kim Cotton - a British woman who was paid £6,500, in an arrangement brokered through an American agency, to act as a surrogate for an anonymous infertile Swedish couple (whom she never met). Surrogacy itself is not illegal in the UK, but it is a criminal offence to advertise for or as a surrogate, or to facilitate a surrogacy arrangement for money.
Piecemeal changes to surrogacy law were made by the the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Acts of 1990 and 2008. The former introduced parental orders, so that intended parents could apply for legal parenthood of children born to surrogates. The latter extended the range of people who are eligible to apply for these orders - for example, granting eligibility to intended parents in civil partnerships or 'enduring family relationships'.
Since then, new legal provisions for same-sex marriage in England and Wales and in Scotland have extended eligibility for legal parenthood to same-sex spouses. Most recently, eligibility has also been extended to single people.
Meanwhile, some of the eligibility criteria for parental orders have been shown to be flawed - or even, in some cases, impossible to maintai. The family courts' primary duty is to the child, whose lifelong welfare interests must be considered paramount. Hence there have been instances where - for example - the time limit by which intended parents must apply for a parental order has been sidestepped, or entry into commercial arrangements overseas has been retrospectively authorised.
Ongoing difficulties and debates in this area, including the question of whether some form of payment to surrogates should be permitted, have led to calls for reform of surrogacy law. The matter has been explored in Parliamentary debate and by an All-Party Parliamentary Group on Surrogacy, as well as in the First and Second Reports of Surrogacy UK's Working Group on Surrogacy Law Reform.
The Law Commissions of England and Wales and of Scotland have also embarked on a joint project, to review surrogacy law and make their own recommendations for reform, with a public consultation expected imminently. The UK Government has said: 'We look forward to the results of the Law Commission's review of the law surrounding surrogacy in general, and are working with all partners and stakeholders to improve the ability of people to pursue this route to parenthood if it is necessary and desired.'
This event will explore questions including:
How can reform of UK surrogacy law best protect the interests of all parties involved in surrogacy arrangements - children, surrogates and intended parents?
What proportion of surrogacy arrangements currently encounter legal difficulties? What are the difficulties that can arise?
Is the current law adequate and proportionate for those surrogacy arrangements that are seemingly unproblematic? Or is it too onerous, even in what are supposedly routine situations?
What might be the consequences - positive or negative - of making surrogacy more easily available to a wider range of people? How can the interests of children, surrogates and intended parents best be formulated and protected?
Should the UK continue to adhere to an altruistic model of surrogacy? Or should it countenance commercial arrangements?
Should a new surrogacy law seek to disincentivise intended parents from seeking surrogates overseas? Or are other considerations and principles more important?
In the Progress Educational Trust tradition, much of the event's running time will be devoted to letting the audience put questions and comments to the speakers.
Attendance at this event is free, but advance registration is required. Register here.
If tweeting about this event, please use the hashtag #PETsurrogacy