Natalie on the Today Programme – who should have the rights where a surrogate baby is disabled?

green leafy houseplant_bNatalie was interviewed by James Naughtie on this morning’s BBC Radio 4 Today Programme about surrogacy (listen again here). The programme covered a US surrogacy case which hit the news after a US surrogate mother refused to terminate her pregnancy at 21 weeks when it was discovered that the baby would be born severely disabled.

In the UK, surrogacy law gives all the rights to the woman who carries the pregnancy – she is the legal mother. Although a case like this has never happened in the UK, if it did there would be no doubt (as there was under US law) that the surrogate mother would hold all the cards. But is this the right approach?

In practice, we know on the ground that surrogacy disputes are incredibly rare. For the vast majority of cases, it would make more sense for the intended (biological) parents, rather than the surrogate, to have legal responsibilities much earlier – it’s what everyone involved wants, and the long delay transferring parenthood leaves children vulnerable for far too long. And where there are disputes, we need a more sophisticated approach to balancing the interests of all involved – surrogate, parents and child.

The real lesson of this case is that we can avoid problems like this by giving the right support at the start. Parents and surrogates need to communicate clearly, and those with radically mismatched views on termination should not proceed together. That is why it is so crazy that UK surrogacy law goes out of its way to deny those going into surrogacy arrangements the support they need. Under UK law, surrogacy contracts are unenforceable and illegal for lawyers to draft, and professional matching and brokering services are prohibited by criminal law. It’s time for that to change.

There is more information about surrogacy law and our campaigning work on our website.

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