How will planned changes to the law on surrogacy affect parents in the UK?

Surrogacy is legal in the UK as long as it is not undertaken for commercial reasons  (Unsplash)
Surrogacy is legal in the UK as long as it is not undertaken for commercial reasons (Unsplash)

The intended parents of a surrogate child should be given legal status from its birth, a review has said, which would give them strict and enforceable rights from the second a baby is born to stop the birth mother changing her mind about giving up the baby.

The recommendation was part of a surrogacy review in Great Britain, which advised that the law should change as soon as possible.

Here is what you need to know:

What are the current surrogacy laws?

At present, a couple seeking a baby from a surrogate pregnancy must wait at least six weeks to become a child’s legal parents, which gives the mother a chance to change her decision. A recent report found that, although the minimum wait is six weeks, the transfer often can take up to a year to go through the courts and be finalised.

The Law Commission of England and Wales and the Scottish Law Commission said the effect is that the intended parents cannot make any decisions in respect of the child, including about medical treatment.

How long have the current laws been in effect?

The law as it stands is 40 years old and experts believe it is overdue for reform.

What would change under the new laws?

There would be a quicker handover of rights for all parties, plus a surrogacy register would be put in place, which would give children the opportunity to trace their origins when they are old enough.

Surrogate parents could also start applying for parental rights before birth, and surrogacy arrangements would start pre-conception. Under the new plans, intended parents would not have to apply to the courts for a parental order.

The report recommended loosening the barriers currently in place against bringing children born abroad to the UK. Children born to surrogate mothers overseas would be able to be brought to the UK more quickly. Intended parents would be able to begin the application process for passports and visas before birth, although the formal application could not be made until after the child had been born.

Would a surrogate still have rights over the child?

Yes. Although greater powers would be given to intended parents, the surrogate parent has not been forgotten.

The report recommended that the surrogate will retain the right to withdraw her consent to the surrogacy agreement up to six weeks after birth, in which case the intended parents would have to apply to the court for a parental order. Under the current law, courts cannot issue a parental order if the surrogate does not consent to it but the changes would allow judges to do so if they considered the welfare of the child required it.

What is not allowed in surrogacy?

Under the current laws, there can be no “for profit” surrogacy in the UK. This rule would remain in any update to the law. Permitted payments include medical costs, to recoup lost earnings, pregnancy support and travel. Prohibited payments include those made for carrying the child, compensatory payments and living expenses such as rent.

Why has the change been recommended?

The review said the existing law, dating back almost 40 years, “does not work in the best interests of any of the people involved”.

The changes are intended to create a well-regulated domestic surrogacy regime in an effort to dissuade couples from opting for international surrogacy agreements.