Monday, 7 March 2011

"They know unconditionally that their parents love them"

Those were the words last Monday from Lisa, a mother who with her husband John had gone down the tortuous path towards parenthood, overcoming red tape, and ultimately becoming parents to twins through commercial surrogacy overseas.

Lisa spoke last Monday, 28 February at a surrogacy forum in Sydney organised by Surrogacy Australia, a community group. I was a panellist at the forum. The timing of the forum was deliberate: that night the Surrogacy Act NSW commenced. The Act had both benefit and cost:


  • the benefit was that for the first time in NSW there is a process with altruistic surrogacy for transfer of parentage via a parentage order, and a formal system of regulation of altruistic surrogacy. Previously altruistic surrogacy was legal in NSW, and typically performed by Sydney IVF or Canberra Fertility Centre. However, there had been no formal process of transfer, which meant that the child was shown as still being the child of the birth mother.
  • the main cost is that for the first time, NSW now clearly bans people who reside in or are domiciled in NSW from engaging in commercial surrogacy, wherever it might be, for example, Thailand, India or the US. People who do so commit an offence in NSW. There is a transition period of an act of grace: those signed up agency contracts before 1 March are exempt from prosecution under the new laws, although there is an argument that they may have committed an offence under the pre-1 March 2011 laws. Lisa said about this law that : "The law cruelly affects a percentage of our population."
It took Lisa and her husband John 8 years of dealing with adoption lists and bureaucracy for their children Joshua and Lucas to be born. The efforts she went to included having to lobby politicians to have the law changed. Lisa and John still keep in touch with the surrogate, Chrissy, who hails from Lancaster, California. Lisa said that the children know where they have come from.


Other speakers included NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge, from the audience Nationals MP Trevor Khan, and Professor Jenni Millbank.



The surrogate's story:  "I want it to be normal."



Kelly has been a surrogate several times. Kelly enjoyed being a surrogate. A mother of 4 children, Kelly became a surrogate quite by accident, ultimately being asked by "a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend" to be a surrogate.


Kelly saw surrogacy as being of help to others who were unable to have children of their own.


She said that it was not as profound as people make out. She saw her role being as a babysitter for others. Leslie called for payment to be allowed: "that would be great"; and for agencies to be allowed, as it would avoid the need of what she has to do now of having to negotiate with all the intended parents, from the beginning, without the benefit of any screening. She said that the friendship with the intended parents was "not the length of friendship, it was the depth". Kelly said that she wanted surrogacy "to be glorified. I want it to be normal."



The gay couple: "All you need is love"



Steve and Lee met in China. They decided to have children. They continued to live in Beijing. Pioneers, they went to a surrogacy clinic in India. Steve became the first single dad to achieve surrogacy from India (as India does not recognise gay relationships). The twins moved to China where they lived with them in Beijing. Steve said that he and Lee had a civil union in New Zealand and now they and the twins, aged 2, live in Sydney.


For me, Steve and Lee's story was the most moving. This is because they were former clients of mine. I had never met Steve and Lee before: our contact had been by email and phone. I had never seen their kids before. It was very touching and humbling to see the little step I had taken had helped them and their children. I told the forum that when I first spoke to Steve and Lee I asked them what state Steve came from. Although he resided in Beijing, I was concerned that if he came from Qld or the ACT he might have been committing an offence.

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