Effect of surrogacy on children should not be ignored, parliamentary committee hears

The health committee tonight started to discuss surrogacy and gamete donation in a tense session dominated by conflicting views

The Health parliamentary committee this evening started to discuss embryo freezing and gamete donation
The Health parliamentary committee this evening started to discuss embryo freezing and gamete donation

The parliamentary health committee this evening heard the testimony of three experts in the field of surrogacy and gamete donation, where it was highlighted that the introduction of the practice should not be thought of as being without repercussions on the children conceived through this method.

The committee heard the testimony of Joanna Rose – a researcher and campaigner against anonymous gamete donation, Christophe Foltzenlogel – a jurist at the European Centre for Law and Justice, as well as a former Dutch lawmaker Esme Wiegman-van Meppelen Scheppink who is also a member of the Dutch Patient Association.

Rose, who was conceived by an anonymous donor, emphasised the trauma she went through upon finding out that her father was in fact not her biological parent, stressing that in most cases, reproductive technology was parent centric. She emphasised the need for the protection of the right of children born through the technology.

“Issues of reproductive technology tend to be presented as private or medical issues,” she said, adding that there was no legal obligation in many countries for children to be told the truth about who their genetic parents were.

Moreover, she stressed that while there were many who could claim to have a right to bear children, people had no right to have the state “sponsor their attempts to reproduce with people they didn’t know”.

Above all, she said that many within the infertility industry viewed the pain cause to offspring as something subjective. “How many of us do you have to hurt over how many decades?”

Furthermore, Rose said that while in most cases the debate was framed as being one regarding an empathetic response to those who were unable to have children, one also needed to appreciate that there was a multi-million dollar industry that stood to benefit from more relaxed legislation.

Rose also pointed out what she claimed was a situation in many cases where there was no obligation for the child to be told the method by which it was conceived.

“Whoever commissioned you is legal parent…the state is complicit in that fraud,” she said, insisting that traumatising a child was not an “ethical trade-off” for being able to create a child. Rose expressed similar reservations on the practice of surrogacy.

The committee also heard from Foltzenlogel about a number of judgements handed down by the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights, which it was told, had all exposed contradictions in various European laws, and which could easily be solved by “not authorising gamete donation”.

Foltzenlogel emphasised his belief that “nobody could escape the fact” that surrogacy entailed “abandoning a child at birth”.

The testimony elicited a strong reaction from the sizeable number of people present for the sitting.

Silvan Agius, the director of the Human Rights and Integration Directorate within the ministry of social dialogue, said that he could not help but note that none of the speakers had referred to any peer-reviewed research in their testimony.

He insisted that the European Centre for Law and Justice was not a human rights organisation but rather, an organisation that spent money fighting the human rights of others.

“One can find people who are against something they benefitted from in all sorts of spheres but that is not to say that whatever they benefitted from is a bad thing,” said Agius, referring to claims that children born of gamete donation faced lifelong trauma.

He said that while one could debate the merits of anonymous gamete donation, it was cynical for one to claim that nobody had a right to have children.

“Likewise, nobody has a right to be happy but it doesn’t mean it is wrong to want to be happy,” said Agius.

He pointed out that the constitution made it clear that all people needed to be treated equally and that in order for this to be possible the Embryo Protection Act needed to be updated.

This was echoed by Gabi Calleja, chairwoman of the Malta Gay Rights Movement, who said that there was currently a conflict between the constitutional obligation for people not be discriminated against, and the provisions of the Embryo Protection Act, which effectively discriminates against same sex couples.

Turning to the issue of anonymity, Calleja said that many would choose not to come forward if they knew there was a chance they might be tracked down by their offspring later in the future.

Gynaecologist Mark Sant highlighted the fact that while one needed to appreciate Rose’s life experience, her testimony remained “only an opinion”.

He said there were studies that showed there was no difference between children born from gamete donation and those conceived naturally, a claim that was refuted by Rose. 

“If I were to come here and tell you of my personal experience in a church school I wouldn’t expect the government to ban church schools because of my own experience,” he said.

Sant also pushed back against suggestions that such techniques were used capriciously noting that he had two patients who had conditions that could not allow them to have children and who had relatives willing to bear their child for them but could not.

“It is a problem if it is turned into a business,” he stressed, adding that difficulties in putting together legislative parameters should not mean the “principle should be thrown away”.

Finally, the committee heard from a woman who said that despite her and her husband’s best efforts to conceive a child, they had so far lost eight embryos, spending over €40,000 to have IVF done abroad. She said that her only option to ever have a child would be to have her sister act as her surrogate.