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There'll be no such thing as a designer baby under this new law

Leo Varadkar has published new proposals to legislate in the area of surrogacy for the first time.

Image: Shutterstock/EDHAR

Updated 4.07 pm

SO-CALLED ‘DESIGNER babies’ will not be allowed under a new surrogacy law being proposed by Health Minister Leo Varadkar.

The government has agreed to prepare a new law to regulate the whole area of surrogacy for the first time with cabinet approval given for the preparation of legislation on assisted human reproduction.

A range of practices will be overseen by a newly-created regulator who will be responsible for the areas of surrogacy, embryo donation, the screening of embryos for serious genetic diseases, gamete (i.e. sperm or egg) donation and stem cell research.

Speaking to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Varadkar said that the new law will not allow so-called ‘designer babies’ to be created with sex selection only allowed under “very rare” circumstances. This includes where a genetic disease in the family is more prevalent on the male or female side.

The minister said that under the new law consent would be required at all stages of the process. The birth mother would remain the legal mother and have the right to withdraw consent for the transfer of parentage right up until the point of that transfer.

People who want to avail of the law and donate sperm or egg will not be able to do so anonymously as a new register of donor conceived children will be be created so that people will know who their biological parents are.

This anonymous register has been criticised as “unacceptable and unworkable” by one of the country’s leading reproductive clinics.

Dr John Waterstone of the Cork Fertility Centre says that the legislation forces couples to have their details registered:

Their donor-conceived children are to be similarly singled out, identified and entered in the same register. The State will make donor-conceived children aware of their genetic origins by informing those children, often against the wishes of their parents, that they were conceived through the use of donor sperm or eggs when they apply for a birth certificate at age 18 or older.

Watersone argues that the law raises questions about the criminalisation of couples who acquire anonymously donated eggs or sperm.  The centre says that neither anonymity or non-anonymity should be enforced but should be a choice for the parents.

Commercial surrogacy, where the surrogate mother is paid, will be banned under the legislation.

Heads of the Bill

Community First Response Schemes Source: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

According to the Department of Health, the draft proposals, known as the Heads of the Bill, will also include:

  • That AHR services will be available to people irrespective of gender, marital status or sexual orientation subject to the welfare of any future children;
  • Clinics will have to assess patients to ensure that the treatment does not pose a disproportionate risk to the health of the mother and the future child
  • Standard practice for suitable candidates should include the transfer of one embryo into a woman’s womb, with the aim of minimising the risks associated with multiple births
  • A limit will be placed on the number of families to which sperm or eggs from the same donor can be donated
  • Embryos can be donated to other individuals to enable them to have a child, or can be donated for research
  • Embryonic stem cell research should be permitted in certain cases but the creation of embryos for research and other experimental practices will be prohibited
  • Use of stored sperm, eggs or embryos after a person’s death by their spouse or civil partner, will be permitted, if that person gave their consent for such a use prior to their death.

After these Heads of the Bill are drafted submissions will be invited from interested parties as part of a consultation process with the Oireachtas Health Committee to hold public hearings on the matter.

Varadkar’s desire not to rush the issue means it may be difficult to pass laws before the next general election.

The debate surrounding surrogacy gained extra impetus after the Supreme Court ruled last year that only the birth mother can appear as the legal mother of a child.

While issuing the ruling, the Supreme Court was critical of the lack of legislation around surrogacy.

Surrogacy was due to be included in the recently-published Children and Family Relationships Bill but the government has since argued it makes more sense to include it in the bill governing assisted human reproduction.

But conservative group Mothers and Fathers Matter say that legislating for surrogacy is wrong because it violates the rights of the child and exploits women.

Spokesperson for the group Kate Bopp argues that two men using surrogacy “trumps the right of that child to be raised by a mother and a father”.

Mothers and Fathers Matter also claims that, in Britain for example, surrogacy exploits poorer women with even non-commercial surrogacy being provided with “reasonable expenses”. A practice, they say, almost inevitably exploits poorer women.

- With reporting by Rónán Duffy

Read: Thailand bans surrogacy for foreigners after Baby Gammy scandal

Read: New law will make it illegal to pay for surrogate mothers

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Hugh O'Connell

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