Helen and Natalie were invited to attend a debate in the House of Lords this evening on UK surrogacy law reform, together with other members of the surrogacy community. Led by Baroness Barker, the debate aired some of the current problems experienced by parents, surrogates and children, and highlighted how the UK’s policy on surrogacy has not been reviewed since 1985.
The debate drew on the 2015 report by the Surrogacy UK working group and the many High Court decisions which have demonstrated the inadequacy of the current law (including the recent case in which a surrogate withheld consent to the transfer of parenthood, and the formal declaration of incompatibility under the Human Rights Act made in our case earlier this year in the High Court in relation to single parents).
The tone was incredibly positive with every speaker endorsing progressive reform, including Lord Mackay who was instrumental in passing the 1990 legislation. It felt particularly meaningful to hear the Minister, responding on behalf of the government, say that the government acknowledged the value of surrogacy as a form of modern family building.
There was clear consensus that the existing law was out of step with 21st century attitudes and lifestyles. There was also agreement that a good way forward would be for the Law Commission to take on surrogacy as part of its next programme in order to make detailed recommendations following a proper consultation (something the Law Commission is currently considering doing, following closure of its consultation on 31 October). The government also highlighted the positive steps being taken by the Department of Health, which is working with UK surrogacy organisations (including our sister organisation Brilliant Beginnings) to create best practice guidance.
There will be important discussion ahead about what any reform should look like, and in particular the mechanism for dealing with parenthood, how surrogacy arrangements are supported by third parties, and how a compensatory framework for surrogates can preserve strong relationships within an ethical surrogacy framework. But what felt so fantastic this evening was the acknowledgment that surrogacy is at its base a positive form of creating families and that, in the modern UK, it should be properly supported by the law. Having that principle agreed so overwhelmingly in the House of Lords feels like a landmark in the campaign for UK surrogacy law reform.
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