Yesterday I spent time with two federal MPs from both sides of politics discussing surrogacy.
Since 2004, most state and territory governments have moved to legalise altruistic surrogacy – that is surrogacy where a mother is not paid to carry and give birth to a child (or children) for someone else.
In submissions to parliamentary inquires and in our lobbying over the years, ACL has consistently warned that the practice of surrogacy is not in the best interests of the child, despite our deep sympathy for couples who are unable to have children.
While adults’ desires are of course important, public policy in a civil society should always err on the side of the vulnerable.
When it comes to children, the guiding principle should be their best interests. This can be hard for adults.
Commercial surrogacy is banned in all Australian States and in most states it is illegal to enter into commercial surrogacy arrangements overseas. Yet people are doing it and authorities are turning a blind eye.
What State Attorney General wants to be telling parents they have to return children acquired through overseas surrogacy?
The recent ‘baby Gammy’ case in Thailand has shone a light on the practice, as State and Territory laws passed with relatively little community debate about the ethics.
Gammy is the Down syndrome son of a Thai woman, Goy, who agreed to carry a baby for a Perth couple.
With multiple embryos implanted, Goy conceived twins – a boy and a girl.
During the pregnancy tests revealed the boy Gammy had Down syndrome.
The Australian commissioning couple wanted Gammy aborted but Goy was not told of Gammy’s Down syndrome until she was seven months pregnant, according to a recent ABC1 Four Corners program.
According to Four Corners, she asked for $5000 in living expenses to spare Gammy’s life. She has only received $2500, according to the program.
Speaking about Gammy’s sister, whom she gave up, Goy tells the camera in tears “I miss my baby terribly”.
For Goy, who was earning $20 a day, the prospect of earning $12,000 from rich Australians desperate for a child was too good to pass up.
Is it ethical for westerners to put poor women in this position?
Thai authorities don’t think so and since the Gammy case, they have cracked down on commercial surrogacy. Surrogacy companies are now moving operations to Nepal, an even poorer country.
Four Corners also interviewed a homosexual couple who also had acquired twins through surrogacy in Thailand.
They spoke as if they had a human right to children.
Their twins have a biological mother as well as a Thai birth mother. These children will grow up removed from both.
However, one of the few voices against surrogacy speaking to Four Corners was international human rights lawyer Dr Anne Gallagher.
She made it clear that there is no universal human right to be a parent and that policy should always be in the best interests of the child.
The Chief Judge of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia, John Pascoe, has called for a federal parliamentary inquiry.
He also wants to see commercial surrogacy legal in Australia, although tightly regulated.
The two parliamentarians I met with agree that the ethical issues surrounding surrogacy need careful public debate.
Had baby Gammy not survived abortion, we may not be having this discussion.