Health Minister Stephen Donnelly’s recent comments about international surrogacy were “extremely hurtful and really disingenuous”, a group representing surrogacy families has said.
The Assisted Human Reproductive Bill is currently on its third reading before Dáil Éireann and aims to provide a legal framework for domestic surrogacy and ensure that the law governing IVF matches international best practices.
However, it has recently been paused at the request of the Minister for Health as it does not contain any provisions to regulate international surrogacy - something that thousands of Irish couples have used over the years in order to have a family.
“The Assisted Human Reproductive Bill was not originally envisaged to include international surrogacy, as colleagues will be aware, and it would be law by now if we hadn’t stopped it,” Minister Donnelly told the Seanad this week.
“So to be clear, it has been years in the making. It’s urgently required - regardless of international surrogacy, it’s urgently required for people in Ireland.
“We need to regulate this sector domestically. It’s at committee and it has been paused. I was asked to stop it for several months, I’ve stopped it for several months but I’m very keen that we get going with the AHR Bill quickly so we agreed to a 12 week pause.
“We can’t indefinitely pause the AHR Bill.”
However, his comments have been met with fury from Irish Families Through Surrogacy - a group that campaigns for the rights of those families created through surrogacy.
“To hear those comments was so extremely hurtful and really disingenuous to us,” Cathy Wheatley from the group said.
“Because the narrative was so negative. The statement made our children’s needs sound like an inconvenience to Mr Donnelly and his department.
“There was a hint of blame underpinning his comments as in, ‘Good for us.'
"The pause of the Assisted Human Reproductive Bill to be reviewed to include international surrogacy, that somehow IVF funding would be in place by now and that simply is not true.
“And you know, our children matter, our children are as important as any other child in Ireland and the general narrative was so negative that we’ve had children up and down the country so upset because we have believed that the Government is doing everything that they can to ensure that these families are finally recognised.”
A popular choice
International surrogacy is popular among Irish families experiencing fertility problems and in 2018 a survey by the international non-profit Families Through Surrogacy found that Ireland was the second largest user of international surrogacy per head in the world.
The reasons for its popularity range from the small number of children put up for adoption in Ireland, the difficulty of domestic surrogacy and the high income of many Irish couples compared to the global average.
However, the lack of a legal framework means many such families encounter a myriad of bureaucratic problems and Ms Wheatley says it high time the Government got its act together and legislated:
“Currently, there is no law in place for surrogacy of any type in Ireland and the AHR bill, to a certain extent, does deal with domestic surrogacy but there is no provision for recognition of international surrogacy and we really feel like we cannot bury our head in the sand,” she continued.
“Most of the children born through surrogacy are born internationally and that will continue to be the case. So we need regulation, we need the guidance from the Government and that’s what we’re asking for.
“And to say that an Assisted Reproduction bill is not the place for international surrogacy is just beyond me because if the Assisted Human Reproductive Bill isn’t the place then what is?
“We have waited since 2001 for this legislation to be looked at, to be finally put in place and now all of a sudden Minister Donnelly has an urgency to it. There is an urgency for us as well but going ahead with an Assisted Human Reproductive Bill, in our view, if it doesn’t include international surrogacy is not fit for purpose.
“It does not benefit anybody.”
In a statement to Newstalk the Department of Health said:
Main image: The Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly outside National Midwifery Conference, 05-04-2022. Image: Leah Farrell/RollingNews