Natalie Gamble was delighted to address the Academy of Adoption and Assisted Reproduction Attorneys’ conference in New York City last week. Speaking on the topic of ‘fighting for parentage recognition’, Natalie was honoured to share a platform with Sylvie Mennesson and her daughter Valentina, who fought a heroic 19 year battle for legal recognition for their family in France.
Natalie shared her own experience of securing parenthood for UK parents through international surrogacy over the past 15 years. She talked about her involvement in the UK’s very first international surrogacy cases in 2008-2010, reflecting on how difficult and uncertain they were and how brave the intended parents were in forging a path that so many others have subsequently been able to follow. As the judge in those early cases said, the welfare of children is the court’s ‘paramount’ consideration, and children born through international surrogacy have a right to secure parentage in the family in which they were conceived.
Natalie reflected on how different things are 15 years on. The English court now hears around 200 parental order applications for children born overseas every year. The High Court always takes care to scrutinise payments made to surrogates and overseas agencies, ensure there is no exploitation and safeguard the best interests of children, but parental orders following international surrogacy have gone from being something difficult and uncertain to just being a process parents through international surrogacy need to follow.
However, while the UK has supported families through surrogacy, other countries have taken a less child-focused approach. As Sylvie Mennesson so heartbreakingly told the conference, in France her twin daughters (born through US surrogacy in 2000) were ‘ghosts’ and ‘invisible’ to the French authorities for the first 19 years of their lives, until the European Court of Human Rights ruled this was not acceptable and they finally received French birth registration documents.
Natalie reflected on quite how strong the prejudices against surrogacy can be, promoting narratives that surrogacy constitutes baby buying, exploitation/erasure of women or commodification of children, and how such prejudices can lead to exclusion from legal recognition of families created through surrogacy. Natalie urged attorneys from around the world to promote global discourse about ethical surrogacy practice and to both demonstrate and articulate how surrogacy can be managed in an ethical way, with informed consent, a fair balance of power, and the welfare of the child at the heart.