A non-debate in the Dáil about the Assisted Human Reproduction Bill

Last week, the Dáil began debating the Assisted Human Reproduction Bill but, in reality, there was no debate. Assisted Human Reproduction (AHR) poses many serious ethical and legal questions but very few objections were raised by our TDs. This is a typical pattern in these debates.

The Bill is very permissive and adult-centered in its inspiring philosophy, but almost all TDs who spoke wanted it to go even further. For instance, the Bill allows for non-commercial or ‘altruistic’ surrogacy, which is banned in 28 out of 44 countries in Europe. The main complaint is that the Bill does not also allow for commercial surrogacy arrangements undertaken in the few countries where paying a surrogate is legal. All European countries, with the exception of Ukraine, Russia and Belarus, ban commercial surrogacy but some TDs are not happy with this.

Deputy Emer Higgins (Fine Gael) said: “Sending people abroad for a service that we do not offer in Ireland sends a twisted message that is somehow wrong, however, it is anything but. We should be celebrating the advances in science and medicine, and the advances in society that allow us to create families in all kinds of ways.”
Most countries ban commercial surrogacy on the grounds that it commodifies children and exploits low-income women. 
The Bill permits non-commercial surrogacy in Ireland provided the embryo is created using an egg other than that of the surrogate mother herself. In other words, the woman who carries the pregnancy should not be genetically related to the child, because that would mean she has entered into a contract to hand over a baby at the end of nine months where she is both the birth mother and the genetic mother. This is called ‘traditional surrogacy’.
But this seems to be what Roisin Shortall, co-leader of the Social Democrats, wants Irish law to allow. She claimed that “the omission of this approach [‘traditional surrogacy’] from the legislation would exclude single people and couples who cannot produce sperm or eggs from surrogacy.” 
Even based on her own logic, this isn’t true. A person is allowed under the Bill and current practice to use the eggs or sperm of a third party to have a baby.
Although the Bill does not allow commercial surrogacy in Ireland, it does allow a surrogate mother to be paid “reasonable expenses”. This could include the likes of accommodation during the pregnancy and the birth, and any loss of income entailed in being a surrogate.

For some poor women it would be a good source of income being paid in this way during a 12-month period that, according to the Bill, would cover not only the pregnancy and some time afterwards, but the period when she was trying to become pregnant.

Only two TDs, raised some questions about the new proposed legislation.

Peadar Tóibín (Aontú) said we cannot have a situation where children do not have access to the information about their biological parents or the mother who carried them. He criticised surrogacy because it splits motherhood between up to three women, i.e. the surrogate, the commissioning mother, and possibly a third person, which is the woman who sold or donated her egg. This could easily present identity issues for the child.

Deputy Tóibín also criticised the Bill for allowing for the pre-implantation diagnostic and destruction of embryos of children with disabilities.

Catherine Connolly (Independent) showed more familiarity with the details of the Bill than anyone else who spoke. She denounced that aspects of the proposed legislation that permit a for-profit approach to AHR.

Deputy Connolly lamented that “the legal vacuum is bad enough, but we also have an information vacuum. … We are utterly reliant on the companies that are making a profit for the information [about AHR] and we do not know the outcomes of these procedures.“

While she welcomed the Bill, she presented some thoughtful criticism. “On the one hand, we have the Rapporteur’s report telling us about the damage caused to children and adults when the State stands by and allows their identity to be taken from them and then, on the other hand, we allow an ad hoc approach to assisted human reproduction in such a way that children born by means of it do not have access to their identity or where they came from.”
Quite so. and it will come back to haunt us, a point frequently raised by the Iona Institute.

(A selection of articles on AHR can be found here).