So-called ‘designer babies’ will not be allowed under a new surrogacy law being proposed by Health Minister Leo Varadkar.
The government has agreed to prepare a new law to regulate the whole area of surrogacy for the first time with cabinet approval given for the preparation of legislation on assisted human reproduction.
A range of practices will be overseen by a newly-created regulator who will be responsible for the areas of surrogacy, embryo donation, the screening of embryos for serious genetic diseases, gamete (i.e. sperm or egg) donation and stem cell research.
Speaking to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Varadkar said that the new law will not allow so-called ‘designer babies’ to be created with sex selection only allowed under “very rare” circumstances. This includes where a genetic disease in the family is more prevalent on the male or female side.
The minister said that under the new law consent would be required at all stages of the process. The birth mother would remain the legal mother and have the right to withdraw consent for the transfer of parentage right up until the point of that transfer.
People who want to avail of the law and donate sperm or egg will not be able to do so anonymously as a new register of donor conceived children will be be created so that people will know who their biological parents are.
Commercial surrogacy, where the surrogate mother is paid, will be banned under the legislation.
According to the Department of Health, the draft proposals, known as the Heads of the Bill, will also include:
Clinics will have to assess patients to ensure that the treatment does not pose a disproportionate risk to the health of the mother and the future child
Standard practice for suitable candidates should include the transfer of one embryo into a woman’s womb, with the aim of minimising the risks associated with multiple births
A limit will be placed on the number of families to which sperm or eggs from the same donor can be donated
Embryos can be donated to other individuals to enable them to have a child, or can be donated for research
Embryonic stem cell research should be permitted in certain cases but the creation of embryos for research and other experimental practices will be prohibited
Use of stored sperm, eggs or embryos after a person’s death by their spouse or civil partner, will be permitted, if that person gave their consent for such a use prior to their death.
After these Heads of the Bill are drafted submissions will be invited from interested parties as part of a consultation process with the Oireachtas Health Committee to hold public hearings on the matter.
Varadkar’s desire not to rush the issue means it may be difficult to pass laws before the next general election.
The debate surrounding surrogacy gained extra impetus after the Supreme Court ruled last year that only the birth mother can appear as the legal mother of a child.
While issuing the ruling, the Supreme Court was critical of the lack of legislation around surrogacy.
Surrogacy was due to be included in the recently-published Children and Family Relationships Bill but the government has since argued it makes more sense to include it in the bill governing assisted human reproduction.