The Irish Government has agreed to put forward proposals for
a wide-ranging bill that features provisions on surrogacy and parenthood for consultation.
The draft Children and Family Relationships Bill, published by the
Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Alan Shatter, contains proposals
that address parentage issues in assisted reproduction and surrogacy, as well
as guardianship, custody and access in a range of family types.
'We urgently need to reform and modernise our family and
children's law to cater for the growing number of families whose needs are not
adequately addressed in current law', said Mr Shatter in a statement.
'Legislation in this area cannot be a one-size-fits-all
solution but must, in a creative and pragmatic way, reflect the needs of
families and children in 21st century Ireland with the focus firmly fixed on
the best interests of the child', he added. The key principles behind the bill
are the welfare and best interests of the child, as well as promoting the
stability of families with children.
Currently, there is no Irish legislation that covers
surrogacy. The surrogate mother is usually considered the legal mother and
intending parents are required to adopt the child in order to be conferred
legal parenthood or apply for guardianship. Last year, the High Court in Ireland ruled
that the genetic (and intended) mother of a surrogate-born child rather than the gestational mother
should be registered as the child's legal mother (reported in BioNews 696}. The decision is being
appealed to the Supreme Court (reported in BioNews 708), however.
The Irish Commission on Assisted Human Reproduction recommended in
2005 that a child born through surrogacy should be presumed to be the intended
parents' legal child (reported in BioNews 306) and in 2010, the Law Reform Commission identified a need
to reform the laws by extending parental responsibility to civil partners. In 2011, an advisor to the Irish Government expressed his concern that a failure to legislate in the area of surrogacy may result in children's rights being violated (reported in BioNews 634).
Mr Shatter said the draft bill seeks to provide legal
clarity on the parentage of children born through IVF and surrogacy. It will
allow married couples, civil partners and cohabitants in a 'committed relationship'
to acquire legal parenthood over children born through assisted reproduction and
It will also provide for court oversight in the granting of
parenting orders in surrogacy 'to ensure that future surrogacy arrangements are
consensual, altruistic and non-commercial', Mr Shatter said.
The best interests of the child will be the paramount
consideration in decisions about parentage, guardianship, custody and access. 'The
draft bill's objective is to safeguard the child’s best interests while
offering a route to parenthood for the commissioning parents', Mr Shatter said.
The draft bill also offers a definition of a child's 'best interests'.
The bill also prohibits commercial surrogacy.
The Government has referred the bill to the Oireachtas
Committee on Justice, Equality and Defence to initiate a consultative process,
before the finalised legislation is drawn up. Mr Shatter said: 'These are
complex and sensitive issues. It is important that the general public and
relevant interest groups should be consulted before we finalise the Bill'. The Committee has been asked to respond by Easter.