The NSW Attorney-General’s Department is currently reviewing the Surrogacy Act 2010, legislation which allowed equal access to altruistic surrogacy within NSW, but made a criminal offence, with a penalty of to 2 years’ imprisonment, of entering into commercial surrogacy arrangements both within NSW and overseas.
Submissions are due by 30 April (next Wednesday), and full details about the review can be found here: <http://www.lpclrd.lawlink.nsw.gov.au/lpclrd/lpclrd_consultation/lpclrd_stat_reviews.html?s=1810621881
As with the NHMRC review of the Ethical Guidelines re Assisted Reproductive Technology, this subject matter is complicated, and I am sure that some people reading this blog will disagree with some of my conclusions (particularly re commercial surrogacy). if that’s the case, then I encourage you to leave a comment below and/or write your own submission.
Department of Attorney General and Justice
GPO Box 6
SYDNEY NSW 2001
Wednesday 23 April
SUBMISSION RE REVIEW OF SURROGACY ACT 2010
Thank you for the opportunity to provide my personal submission in response to the review of the NSW Surrogacy Act 2010.
As suggested by the terms of reference, this submission is separated into two parts: the first examines whether the policy objectives of the Act remain valid, while the second considers whether the terms of the Act remain appropriate for securing those objectives.
Part A: Do the policy objectives of the Surrogacy Act 2010 remain valid?
The review outlines that the policy objectives of the Surrogacy Act 2010 are to:
- Protect the interests of children born as a result of surrogacy arrangements;
- Provide legal certainty for parties to surrogacy arrangements, and
- Prevent the commercialisation of human reproduction.
Overall, I believe that the first two of these policy objectives remain valid, while the third should be replaced with the policy objective “To prevent the exploitation of people for the purposes of human reproduction”. I also believe that an additional policy objective should be added: “To recognise and support diversity in family structures and relationships.”
Protect the interests of children born as a result of surrogacy arrangements
As with likely all other people making submissions to this review, I strongly support the retention of this policy objective. I also agree with the inclusion of this objective as the primary Guiding Principle in section 3 of the Act: “[t]his Act is to be administered by reference to the principle that, in relation to any surrogacy arrangement, the best interests of the child of the surrogacy arrangement are paramount.”
I note that the best interests of children born through surrogacy are protected and supported by the equal treatment of all people, irrespective of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status, because, as all reputable research has shown, none of these characteristics are relevant in determining whether an individual or couple will be a good, caring and loving parent(s).
The Surrogacy Act 2010 should be commended for not drawing any distinctions on the basis of these attributes, and the non-discriminatory nature of its operative provisions should be retained.
However, the role of the Act in affirming the diversity of family structures and relationships that already exist in NSW could be strengthened by the elevation of a principle reflecting this reality in a new stand-alone policy objective.
Such a possibility was considered during the second reading speech debate in 2010, as well as in the Standing Committee on Law and Justice’s 2009 Report entitled ‘Legislation in Altruistic Surrogacy’, which helped to inform development of the Act.
I believe that a new policy objective – namely, “To recognise and support diversity in family structures and relationships” – should be added to the Act to highlight the non-discriminatory approach of the legislation and the fact that all people can be good parents, irrespective of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.
Recommendation 1: A new policy objective should be added to the Surrogacy Act 2010- “To recognise and support diversity in family structures and relationships.”
Provide legal certainty for parties to surrogacy arrangements
Not only do I believe that this policy objective remains valid, but I also believe that the Act, and its framework for transfer of parentage of children born through surrogacy arrangements, is largely successful in achieving this outcome. Therefore, this policy objective should be retained.
Prevent the commercialisation of human reproduction
I do not support this policy objective, and believe it should be replaced with a new policy objective: “To prevent the exploitation of people for the purposes of human reproduction.”
By way of explanation, I believe the inclusion of the current policy objective is, to some degree, an attempt to address the issue of potential reproductive exploitation (especially of women), but that it confuses the means (a ban on commercial reproduction, including surrogacy) with the ends (preventing reproductive exploitation). It is the ends that should be reflected in the policy objectives rather than the means.
Further, I believe that the question whether commercial surrogacy is and always will be wrong, in every possible circumstance, is complex, and one about which different people, well-motivated and passionate about human rights and welfare, can and do reach different conclusions. However, one conclusion about which I hope all people would agree is that people, and especially women, should not be exploited for their reproductive capabilities.
Personally, I do not feel confident in saying that every possible arrangement, between a birth mother and the intended parent(s) of the child, is inherently wrong – and wrong to the point where it should be criminalised – simply because of the exchange of money in addition to those which cover the birth mother’s costs.
Nor do I necessarily believe that the nature of a surrogacy arrangement automatically and fundamentally changes, from one which is recognised and supported in legislation (altruistic surrogacy), to one which is not only prohibited but attracts a maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment (commercial surrogacy), because of the exchange of that money.
Of course, I am cognisant of the fact that the introduction of financial ‘rewards’ to the already ethically-complex area of surrogacy arrangements carries with it significant risks. Chief among those are the risk that people, and especially the women acting as surrogate mothers, will be exploited for their reproductive capabilities.
However, I also believe there are other ways in which people can be exploited for their reproductive capabilities (such as through emotional and/or familial pressure). Indeed, the Surrogacy Act 2010 already contains a range of safeguards that have nothing to do with commercialisation, but are directed at preventing exploitation (for example, the requirement for an independent counsellor’s report to verify that the birth mother has an “understanding of the social and psychological implications of the making of a parentage order” and “whether any consent given by the birth parent or parents to the parentage order is informed consent, freely and voluntarily given” – subsections 17(3)(a) and (f)).
In my view, it is the prevention of exploitation that should be the policy objective in this area, rather than commercialisation per se. This new objective should then be used to guide whether and, if so, how commercial surrogacy arrangements should be allowed (see discussion in part B).
Recommendation 2: The policy objective “To prevent the commercialisation of human reproduction” should be replaced with a new policy objective “To prevent the exploitation of people for the purposes of human reproduction.”
Part B: Do the terms of the Surrogacy Act 2010 remain appropriate to secure those objectives?
For the most part, the provisions of the Surrogacy Act 2010 work well in protecting the interests of children born as a result of surrogacy arrangements and in providing legal certainty for parties to surrogacy arrangements. As indicated in Part A, I also believe that the non-discriminatory way in which the legislation has been drafted could be enhanced further by the addition of a new policy objective (“To recognise and support diversity in family structures and relationships”).
However, I believe that there is a clear divergence in determining whether the provisions of the Act remain appropriate depending on which of the two alternative policy objectives discussed in Part A (‘prevent commercialisation’ or ‘prevent exploitation’) is adopted.
For example, if the over-arching goal of the legislation remains to prevent commercialisation in any form, then the ban on commercial surrogacy in section 8 (which includes a maximum penalty of 1000 penalty units or 2 years’ imprisonment, or both, for those people who are in contravention) would clearly still be appropriate.
The prohibition on commercial surrogacy arrangements entered into overseas by people ordinarily resident or domicile in NSW, as outlined in the ‘geographical nexus for offences’ provision in section 11, would also remain a valid attempt to secure the objective of preventing commercialisation.
However, if the policy objective of preventing commercialisation is actually seen as a means to the end of preventing exploitation (which I believe it is), or indeed, if it were to be replaced with the explicit policy objective of preventing exploitation of people and especially women for their reproductive capabilities, then we are forced to consider how these provisions are currently operating, and their impact on people both in NSW and overseas.
I suspect that, even before the Surrogacy Act 2010 was introduced, there were few, if any, commercial surrogacy arrangements entered into within NSW, and that this situation would remain the case today.
I also believe that there is evidence that the number of overseas commercial surrogacy arrangements was growing at the time of the legislation’s passage, and that, since its introduction, the number of these arrangements entered into by people resident or domiciled in NSW has likely decreased. This could be seen as evidence that the ban has reduced exploitation.
However, I also believe that there is sufficient anecdotal and other evidence that some overseas commercial surrogacy arrangements entered into by people living in NSW continue. The overwhelming desire for some individuals or couples to become parents, together with the low numbers of ‘stranger’-child adoptions, both within Australia and internationally, means that this option continues to be at or near the top of the list of possible routes to parenthood. The criminal penalty attached to section 8 is unlikely to deter such people.
The result of this is that, while some individuals or couples may choose (or have the money to choose) commercial surrogacy arrangements in countries with strong regulation and low economic disadvantage, which at least reduces the possibility of exploitation, others opt for (or are financially restricted to choosing) countries with little or no regulation, as well as higher economic inequality or disadvantage than Australia, thereby significantly increasing the risks of exploitation of the women acting as surrogate mothers.
Thus, while the ban on commercial surrogacy may be effective in preventing the exploitation of women within Australia, I believe it has to be acknowledged that it is not entirely successful in preventing the potential for exploitation of women in other countries.
In this context, we are forced to consider whether there are alternative approaches to the question of commercial surrogacy that could lower the overall level of exploitation of all women.
At least one option, which should at least be considered, would be legalising commercial surrogacy arrangements within NSW, and placing them within a tightly regulated system with the ability to be overseen by appropriate domestic agencies, while at the same time continuing the prohibition on commercial surrogacy arrangements entered into overseas.
This framework – domestic legalisation and overseas ban – arguably may have the best potential to reduce the overall level of reproductive exploitation of women.
However, it is difficult to consider the respective advantages or disadvantages of such a framework in the absence of a proposal outlining exactly how a domestic commercial surrogacy scheme could operate. I believe it is nearly impossible to compare the known harms of surrogate exploitation in (some) overseas countries, with the hypothetical risks of exploitation under an unknown domestic commercial surrogacy scheme.
For this reason, I believe that the NSW Law Reform Commission or similar body should be given the responsibility to consider this issue, but, rather than recommend whether commercial surrogacy should be legalised or not, they should instead design what a ‘model’ domestic commercial surrogacy scheme would look like, with the guiding principle of minimising the risks of exploitation.
This model could then be used as the basis for a genuine and sustained debate, in the community, the media and amongst politicians, about whether the current system (a blanket ban), or a system which allows for tightly-regulated domestic commercial surrogacy, is the best way to reduce the risk of exploitation of all women, and not just those living in NSW.
Of course, it may be that it is impossible to design a domestic commercial surrogacy scheme that sufficiently reduces the risks of exploitation of people (and especially women) for their reproductive capabilities.
It may also be that, after this process, the majority of people still believe that the ‘commercialisation’ of human reproduction is always wrong, and that commercial surrogacy should always be illegal.
However, given we are aware that at least some overseas commercial surrogacy arrangements continue to occur, and appear likely to continue well into the future, I believe it is incumbent upon us to consider whether there are any alternatives to the current regulatory approach and, after considering those alternatives, decide what is the most appropriate way “To prevent the exploitation of people for the purpose of human reproduction.”
Recommendation 3: The NSW Law Reform Commission, or similar body, should be asked to design a ‘model’ framework for domestic commercial surrogacy arrangements, with a guiding principle to minimise the risks of the exploitation of people for the purpose of human reproduction.
Should you require additional information, or to clarify any of the recommendations included in this submission, I can be contacted at the details below.