‘Shocking’ allegations of human trafficking and sham embryo transfer at a Greek fertility clinic show how difficult it may be for Ireland to police international surrogacy, according to a family law expert.
This week, an agency that assists in international surrogacy advised Irish couples against arranging surrogacies in North Cyprus.
The advice follows a series of arrests made at a fertility clinic in Crete, Greece, where the clinic was alleged to have been involved in human trafficking and sham embryo transfers.
Speaking to Newstalk Breakfast, University of Galway family law lecturer Dr Brian Tobin said the women involved typically originate from Eastern Europe and are "forced" to engage in egg donation and act as surrogates.
"It is quite shocking to see that happening on European soil," he said.
As part of the proposed policy on international surrogacy in Ireland, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said the State would ensure "the safeguarding of the welfare of surrogate mothers".
The proposal also will involve a pre-authorisation of jurisdictions that Irish couples tend to go to for surrogacy arrangements.
Dr Tobin said it will be "rather difficult" to envisage which arrangements the State will put in place to ensure that the jurisdictions are acting "entirely ethically".
"It's very difficult for any state to ensure that what is happening elsewhere is in compliance with Irish domestic human rights standards and ethical obligations," he said.
International surrogacy is something that has been "problematic" for a long time, according to Dr Tobin.
"I think that the committee that was looking at all this would accept that to some extent as well," he said.
"That's probably why the legislation is taking such a long time to come to fruition.
"There are many issues with international surrogacy destinations – for some people, the big issue would be that a lot of them are commercial surrogacy destinations where a lot of money changes hands."
Dr Tobin said the proposed legislation will be part of an "uphill struggle" for the protection of surrogates rights.
"Stephen Donnelly made a speech in the Dáil a few months ago, speaking very favourably about what we're doing and how the eyes of the world are on us in regard to this surrogacy legislation," he said.
"Nowhere else has done what we are proposing, where a State body – this Assisted Human Reproduction Regulatory Authority that will be here in Ireland – will be able to approve couples to go to jurisdiction X, Y or Z abroad.
"As this situation in Greece has shown us, it's very difficult to know how these foreign jurisdictions are themselves regulating surrogacy within their borders."
Dr Tobin said it would be "unrealistic" to try to ban the practice, but advises the State to encourage domestic surrogacy.
"[We need] to have the best possible domestic surrogacy regime here in Ireland – what was proposed under the initial 2022 Bill is far too restrictive," he said.
"I think there is a better way of doing it on Irish soil to try to deter people from going to jurisdictions where there are legal and ethical concerns."