Justice Committee hears submissions on radical family law reform proposal

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The Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality has heard aural submissions from groups that are interested in the government's Family and Relationships Bill.

Justice Minister Alan Shatter's proposed legislation if passed will legalise surrogacy, egg and sperm donation, and give civil partners adoption rights identical to those of married couples.Alan_Shatter.jpg

In addition, it will give single men, single women, cohabiting couples, and same-sex couples full access to Assisted Human Reproduction along with married couples.

Only one group, Family & Life, has argued in favour of a child's right to a mother and father and against the deliberate cutting of the natural ties.

The submission from the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists', based on the views of those working in the fertility industry, calls for the inclusion of “traditional surrogacy” (where a surrogate mother uses her own eggs, rather than those of the “commissioning mother”, or a donor) to be permitted in the legislation. They also want provision for posthumous conception via gamete donation; an easing of the prohibition on advertising for surrogacy; and a system whereby donors of eggs and sperm would receive “incentive payments” to ensure supply.

In addition, they call for a provision to be added to the legislation whereby a surrogate would be free to have an abortion abroad “for any reason.”

The children's charity Barnardos welcomed the new definition of parentage, which they said was “viewed more widely than the genetic makeup of the child.”

They also said it was “nonsensical” that currently an individual can adopt “regardless of sexual orientation” but “those in a civil partnership” are “exempt from adopting a child”, and were pleased to see the proposal to change this.

But they raised questions about anonymous sperm and egg donation, saying that while not identifying a donor as a parent of their biological child “made sense”, giving children no knowledge about their origins “denied donor-conceived people the right to know their true biological identity.”

Brian Tobin, lecturer in Law at NUIG, criticised the lack of recognition of genetic fathers in the bill, and urged that “known donors” of sperm should be the presumptive parents of a child, in a similar way to the proposed treatment of surrogate mothers.

However, in relation to situations involving “lesbian co-parents where a licensed facility is used and the sperm donor is consequently unknown” he siad that “this should not prove constitutionally unsound in my opinion. The child’s right to know and enjoy the care of its father under Article 42A.1 would have to yield to pragmatism. In this instance the child should be deemed the child of the commissioning couple because not only are the biological parents unknown to each other but the protection of the unknown donor’s position is necessary to prevent gamete donations from drying up.”

Dr Deirdre Madden of UCC also criticised anonymous donation. However, she called for “traditional surrogacy” to be legalised, saying that it risked unnecessarily bringing in a third woman, which not would not be in the best interests of the child. She also suggested that sperm be treated as property, which can be bequeathed and inherited; and also said that when donor sperm is used by a single woman, the law should make it clear that “there is no second parent.” Finally, Dr Madden said that the penalties in relation to commercial surrogacy were excessively harsh, and were likely to be ignored in practice as in other jurisdictions.

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