Episode three of The Talk, an Irish programme where people share their lived experiences with each other, delved into the world of IVF and surrogacy. There's no presenter asking questions to guide the conversation: instead, two individuals discuss the issues they faced, adding an inimitable intimacy to the conversations.
In this episode, we meet four people whose unique circumstances led them down the path of assisted reproduction. Lucy Fallon was diagnosed with breast cancer at 29 and following a difficult and unsuccessful five-year foray into adoption, she turned to surrogacy. She shares her story with Sara Byrne, who has cystic fibrosis and underwent a lung transplant, making pregnancy exceptionally dangerous to her health. Fallon and Byrne chose to pursue surrogacy in Ukraine, a top destination for Irish intended parents, according to The Times. They relay the ups and downs, and how ultimately despite 'all of the years of turmoil and grief and pain – I would do it again in the morning.'
Fallon and Byrne commiserate over their lack of legal recognition as their children's mothers. Fallon shares the very real and heart-breaking consequences of the rigid Irish legal framework which does not recognise the intended parents as legal parents. Instead, they are required to apply to be a legal guardian. Unlike the UK, where intended parents may be eligible for a parental order, allowing for their recognition as legal parents, Ireland has nothing in place. Legal guardianship is a long and arduous process, with Fallon only recognised as such on her daughter's second birthday.
As legal guardian, Fallon can make decisions and perform duties in relation to her daughter's upbringing, but is not legally recognised as her mother. Since she was not recognised as a legal parent, when her daughter was ill as a newborn, she couldn't go into A&E with her and couldn't consent to any treatment as her parent. She waited outside in the car for those ten days, just to feel closer. Additionally, legal guardianship rights are extinguished when a child turns eighteen; this means that Fallon will be a legal stranger to her daughter, despite being her mother socially.
Responding in support, Byrne tells Fallon about the frustrations she faced: since her husband is the genetic father, he was able to apply for guardianship directly under the Guardianship of Infants Act 1964. She had to similarly wait two years, and her husband had to essentially allow her to apply for guardianship. In failing to reflect lived reality, this legal approach is not in children's best interests, as Fallon and Byrne are not their children's guardians: 'We were their mothers before they were born, like every Irish mother out there.'
Ranae von Meding did not pursue surrogacy to form her family, but instead undertook shared motherhood with her wife, unaware of the resulting legal difficulties. Gearóid Kenny Moore and his husband knew they would either have to adopt or go through surrogacy to become parents. Since their journey occurred prior to the passing of the Adoption Amendment Act 2017 which allowed gay couples to adopt, adoption was not a suitable option for them at the time. For their surrogacy journey, it was fundamental that Kenny Moore felt comfortable and safe with the jurisdiction in which their surrogacy arrangement took place. This prompted him and his husband to choose Canada.
However, this first surrogacy was unsuccessful following a very early pregnancy loss, leading them to almost give up on their dream of fatherhood. von Meding tells Kenny Moore about her journey in reciprocal IVF and how she and her wife also underwent a double embryo transfer, and how, similarly, they let themselves hope, only to experience a very early pregnancy loss. Determined, von Meding underwent a single embryo transfer shortly thereafter and this time, it was successful. A UK-based friend of Kenny Moore's offered to be their surrogate, and it's clear her altruistic offer was incredibly life-changing, allowing him and his husband to have twins.
Despite the clear differences, von Meding and Kenny Moore's journeys to parenthood were coloured with a similar range of emotions, as they were confronted with the same issues of their families receiving appropriate legal recognition. Kenny Moore tells a sympathetic von Meding about how the British legal framework renders him and his husband legal strangers to their children, as they are ineligible for a parental order. Since she gave birth, Irish law recognises van Meding as a legal mother, but her wife is a legal stranger. Kenny Moore and van Mending desperately wish that the law would change prior to having their next children, yet sadly Ireland lags behind.
Fallon, Byrne, Kenny Moore, and van Meding share their experiences with a legal framework that is unfit for purpose. Kenny Moore describing his childhood rural community's delight and acceptance of his family reveals an unexpectedly progressive societal stance on parenthood. However, the law lags behind, denying non-traditional families legal rights and responsibilities that accompany the joy of parenthood. Irish law on parenthood has been in flux over the past few years, slowly shifting towards acceptance—or at least recognition—of diverse family forms. As the Law Commission of England and Wales and the Scottish Law Commission prepare their final report on surrogacy, Ireland should consider a similar process.
Leading academics have addressed the Oireachtas, calling for comprehensive surrogacy legislation. On 10 March 2022, the Health (Assisted Human Reproduction) Bill, allowing domestic surrogacy was presented to the Dáil. Disappointingly, the bill is nowhere near as progressive as may have been hoped, with use of terminology such as 'surrogate mother' being one example. Currently, a special joint Oireachtas committee is being assembled and will present their recommendations in three months' time. Hopefully these recommendations will ensure protection for those pursuing international surrogacy arrangements such as those in this episode of The Talk.