The babies born into a
ALANA KIRK GILLHAM
Irish Times, Tue, Oct
Surrogacy in Ireland is
shrouded in secrecy and a lack of legislation has turned it into a
WHILE ADVANCES in
technology have made impossible dreams of having a baby come true
through surrogacy, a lack of progress in legislation means many Irish
couples are unable, or fearful, to embark on this journey.
Despite the growing use
of surrogacy, it is still shrouded in secrecy and legal complexity.
Ireland provides no legislation governing surrogacy, and Irish couples
who go abroad are being driven into a minefield of fraught and
challenging legal issues.
Even when they bring
their child home, they do not meet the criteria for maternity or
adoption leave, and often find the health system unable to accommodate
Surrogacy is where a
woman carries and gives birth to a baby who is the biological child of
another couple. Legally, it can be a complex issue as in many countries,
including Ireland, there is a default legal assumption that the woman
giving birth is the child’s legal mother.
However, some countries
and several individual states in America allow surrogacy so that the
intended parents are recognised as the legal parents from birth.
The issue of surrogacy
has often hit the headlines when problems arise for parents bringing
their child home, but for the majority of couples who undertake this
challenging journey, it is an untold story of heartbreak and reward,
with little or no support from the Irish system.
Elizabeth* (34) was
born without a uterus, and as a teenager was told she could never have
children. Options such as surrogacy were never explained to her, and she
only discovered this was possible when she began searching the internet
in the late 1990s.
“Apart from a
desperate desire to have a child of my own, it was extremely stressful
being constantly asked by people when or if I was going to have
children. This has been the most hurtful part of the whole journey,”
After getting married,
she contacted St James’s Hospital in Dublin, which put her in touch
with an Irish couple who had successfully gone through surrogacy using
an agency in the US, and are now parents to twin girls.
“Meeting her [the
mother] was like winning the lottery. It was living proof that surrogacy
works and that I wasn’t the ‘only’ one,” says Elizabeth.
She researched agencies
and options, and in August 2009 her daughter was conceived through IVF.
Throughout that time, there was little or no support for her in Ireland.
Surrogacy is an
expensive process and she was not able to avail of any financial support
here, or use any Irish clinics for her IVF treatment.
Her daughter was born
in the US where insurance is an important factor because in America the
baby is immediately the legal responsibility of the commissioning
couple, and the surrogate’s insurance does not pay for the newborn’s
Elizabeth was unable to
get insurance in Ireland or America and so, like many couples, decided
to take a risk. Luckily, her daughter was in hospital only for a couple
of days which cost about $6,000 (€4,230).
If there had been any
complications involving a week in ICU, for example, the bill would have
run into the hundreds of thousands.
On her return to
Ireland, where there is no legal framework to support a child born
through surrogacy, it took Elizabeth weeks to get the HSE to agree to do
the early check-ups. She was also refused any paid leave to care for her
However, despite the
lack of legal or health support, she found people’s reactions to be
“I was anxious about
what people would think, but every single person was delighted for us.
We received an embarrassing amount of presents for our daughter, partly
I think because people loved the story.”
Deirdre Madden, a
lawyer and family law campaigner, has been advocating the need for
legislation governing assisted reproduction for many years.
“This is the one area
I consistently get phone calls about – from doctors, GPs, couples, and
solicitors looking for advice on the law.”
The main problem for
Irish couples is a conflict of laws, whereby the legal frameworks in
Ireland and the country where the baby is born are different.
Madden’s advice for
parents who want to take this route is to wait, or to at least be as
prepared as possible.
“Go to a solicitor
who is familiar with family and adoption law in Ireland and who is
prepared to research thoroughly the law in the country they are seeking
to use,” she says.
“Even then, there are
no guarantees they’ll be able to bring back their baby unless the
Irish government introduces legislation here.”
Madden believes it is
just not seen as a legislative priority, and although the Department of
Health is considering legislation on assisted reproduction, it is
unclear if this will deal specifically with surrogacy.
The Department of
Justice raised the issue of citizenship for children born to Irish
parents abroad through surrogacy at Cabinet in July.
It was agreed that
initial work on a Bill relating to surrogacy would begin, and
consideration be given to a protocol in the interim to address the issue
of citizenship. No timeframe was provided.
Although there is no
official surrogacy support group in Ireland, there does seem to be an
underground network, whereby commissioning parents help each other, and
give advice to couples wishing to begin surrogacy.
Elizabeth thinks the
reason it is not yet out in the open is because many of the children
born from surrogacy are too young to yet understand the circumstances
around their births, and it will become more public once they are older.
“It will always be
spoken about in our house. I never want her to think it is something
that can’t be talked about,” she says.
And she has no regrets.
“I am proud that we went through the journey successfully and I think
an Irish support group would be a fantastic thing.
“I would love to
celebrate ‘World Surrogacy Day’ every year and make a fuss of our
“She will always know
just how much every dream in my life came true the day that she was
* Not her
© 2011 The Irish Times
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