News Roundup

UK widower wins right to have child with surrogate

A UK High Court judge has ruled that the husband of a woman who died while pregnant can use an embryo created during fertility treatment to have a child using a surrogate.

Ted Jennings, 38, and his late wife, Fern-Marie Choya, who died aged 40 in 2019 after her womb ruptured while she was 18 weeks pregnant with twin girls, had undergone several IVF cycles.

Jennings wants to use the couple’s remaining embryo — created using his sperm and his wife’s eggs in 2018 — in treatment “with a surrogate mother”.

He asked a High Court judge for a declaration that it would be lawful for him to do so, because Choya had not given consent in writing.

In a ruling last week, Mrs Justice Theis said she was “satisfied” that Choya had consented to use of the embryo, which is stored at a private fertility clinic in London, in the event of her death. The judge concluded that Choya had not been given sufficient opportunity to give consent in writing because a form completed during the IVF process was “far from clear”.

The judge said that the interference with Jennings’s “right to respect to become a parent” were she not to grant the declaration he sought “would be significant, final and lifelong”.


Swiss doctors oppose assisted suicide-on-demand

Assisted suicide for healthy persons is not medically and ethically justifiable, according to new guidelines issued in May by the Swiss Medical Association. In Switzerland people merely ‘tired of life’ can avail of assisted suicide.

The SMA says that healthy persons who want to end their lives must prove that their suffering is “unbearable”, and that “other options have been unsuccessful or are rejected by the patient as unreasonable”.

Patients should also have at least two meetings with a doctor– at least two weeks apart –before the final decision to ensure that their desire is “well-considered and enduring”.

The guidelines underscore that the doctor is free to refuse to cooperate: “The true role of physicians in the management of dying and death, however, involves relieving symptoms and supporting the patient. Their responsibilities do not include offering assisted suicide, nor are they obliged to perform it. Assisted suicide is not a medical action to which patients could claim to be entitled, even if it is a legally permissible activity”.

The new guidance is in line with the ethical guidelines issued in 2018 by the Swiss Academy of Medical Sciences. While not legally binding, they will form part of an ethical code for Swiss doctors.


U.S. Supreme Court strikes down Roe v Wade

The U.S. Supreme Court has recognised that each U.S. state has the freedom to determine its own laws on abortion, including protections for unborn life from its earliest stages, in today’s judgement in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

This marks a dramatic shift away from the United States’ previous abortion framework established by the Court in the now infamous Roe v. Wade case of 1973. In that ruling, the Court overturned pro-life laws in all fifty states and instead imposed an extreme law on the whole nation, which positioned the U.S. among only six countries in the world, including China and North Korea, permitting abortion on demand throughout all nine months of pregnancy.

At issue in this present case was the state of Mississippi’s law protecting life by limiting abortion on demand after 15 weeks gestation.

By a 6-3 ruling, the law was held to be constitutional, despite contravening aspects of the Court’s previous Roe v Wade ruling. However, by a 5-4 majority, in an opinion authored by Justice Samuel Alito, the Court ruled that all of the Roe v Wade jurisprudence should be overturned, paving the way for each state to make up its own laws on the matter as each one sees fit.


Norwegian Minister wants to punish surrogacy abroad

In Norway, a Government Minister would sanction Norwegians who procure children from abroad through commercial surrogacy, comparing the practice to human trafficking. Ireland is currently considering recognising commercial surrogacy when an Irish couple pays a woman in another country for the use of her womb. Almost no European country recognises the practice.

The Minister for Children and Families, Kjersti Toppe, supports the country’s current ban on domestic surrogacy: “It is forbidden in Norway, and I am very much behind it. I am opposed to surrogacy for various reasons. Among other things, the child rights perspective. There is a risk that children will be born and orphaned [if the intended parents do not pick it up].”

Toppe told Norwegian broadcaster NRK that the disapproval of surrogacy should also be extended in some way to those who circumvent the law by going abroad to have a child through a foreign surrogate and then return with the child to Norway. “It is not a point for me to punish, but penal provisions are attitude-creating and support the seriousness of the legal provision. It is important to make it clear that there is a ban”.

About ten years ago, the Storting passed an exemption proposal which means that people who have children through surrogacy abroad cannot be punished. Toppe voted against that law change and still disagrees to this day.

Already in 2017, Toppe advocated such a ban and compared it to the fact that it is a criminal offence for Norwegians to buy sex abroad.


Sperm shortage prompts British women to look abroad

A nationwide shortage of sperm donors is driving British women to rogue online sperm banks and foreign donors, says a new report.

Three quarters of donated sperm used in the UK is now shipped in from overseas, often after being purchased online from poorly regulated clinics.

The report by the fertility charity Progress Educational Trust (PET) said the shortage was putting women at risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and increasing the likelihood of their children having genetic conditions. It is calling for a recruitment drive to get men in England to donate sperm to the NHS, urging those aged 18-45 with no health problems to sign up.

Sperm donation is regulated by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) and all donors are screened for heritable medical conditions. Under UK law donors cannot be paid, receiving £35 in expenses, and they cannot remain anonymous. Children get the right to find out their father’s identity on their 18th birthday.

Women can obtain donor sperm from a licensed fertility clinic either on the NHS or by paying privately, but long waiting lists because of England’s chronic sperm shortage mean many look abroad instead. Private clinics can import from overseas sperm banks which offer online profiles of donors, showing characteristics including eye colour, race and hair colour.


Huge increase in abortion of babies with Down’s syndrome

The highest number of abortions ever recorded in England and Wales occurred last year, according to the Department for Health and Social Care. This includes 859 terminations where a baby had Down’s syndrome, a huge increase of 23.95% from 2020.

The figures showed 214,869 abortions taking place, an increase of 4,009 from 2020.

The statistics also show a 71% increase in late-term abortions at 24 weeks gestation or over where the baby had Down’s syndrome, increasing from 14 in 2020 to 24 in 2021.

There was also a 9% increase in the overall number of abortions for babies with disabilities, also known as eugenics, increasing from 3,083 in 2020 to 3,370 in 2021. The number of late-term abortions at 24 weeks gestation or over where the baby has a disability increased by 20% from 229 to 274.

There was also an increase of 14% in the number of abortions where a baby had a cleft lip and palate, rising from 35 in 2020 to 40 in 2021. The number of late-term abortions at 24 weeks gestation or over where the baby had cleft lip and palate, increased by 100% from 3 to 6.


Landmark religious freedom victory at US Supreme Court 

The US Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that the state of Maine may not exclude religious schools from a state tuition program.

The 6-3 ruling was the latest decision by the court that has increasingly favoured the role of religion in public life.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., writing for the majority, said the ruling did not require states to support religious education. But states that choose to subsidise private schools, he added, may not discriminate against religious ones.

Michael Bindas, a lawyer with the Institute for Justice, which represented the families challenging Maine’s program, said the court’s decision on Tuesday was a major step for religious schools to receive the same kind of government aid as other private schools.

“Today’s decision makes clear, once and for all, that the government may not bar parents from selecting religious schools within educational choice programs,” he said.


Irish delegation attends World Meeting of Families in Rome 

An Irish delegation is in Rome to attend the 10th World Meeting of Families which begins today on the theme, ‘Family love: a vocation and a path to holiness.’

The delegates include family members as well as Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, and Bishop Denis Nulty of Kildare & Leighlin.

Ahead of his departure for Rome, Bishop Nulty said, ““We look forward to discussions and reflections from families on themes such as the role of grandparents, the pastoral care of the elderly, accompanying fatherhood and motherhood, vocations, accompanying forgiveness, preparing for marriage, the impact of digital media on family life and much more.

“As we pray and reflect together on the many joys and challenges facing family life today.  I am particularly conscious of the enormous difficulties being faced by families here in Ireland as a result of the rapid rise in the cost of living. I commend the work being done in dioceses and parishes across the country to reach out and support families in difficulty on a day to day basis.  As we depart for Rome we will take the prayers and intentions of Irish families with us”, Bishop Nulty said.


UK: Only 31% think trans issues should be taught in primary school

Only 2 percent of the British public think “the debate about transgender people” is one of the most important issues facing the country, according to a recent survey.

Based on polling of more than 5,000 people and 20 focus groups, the report by the think-tank, More in Common, finds that the divisive debate playing out in Westminster and social media is out of sync with the public’s approach to the issue.

Instead of angry differences of opinion and Twitter pile-ons, the reports’ authors say the public want a ‘live and let live’ approach to trans people and case-by-case solutions, not blanket policies. Most are aware of the issues involved, a quarter know someone who is transgender, and for most the starting points are compassion and common sense.

Among the findings, the report said only 31% of British people think children should be taught about trans issues in primary school. However, among “progressive activists” that figure rose to 61%.

Most respondents (57 per cent) think that biological males who identify as trans women should not be allowed to compete in women-only sporting events (with 19 per cent who think they should be allowed). Focus groups found that the public see this as an issue of a level-playing field and the physical advantages that men have in some sports, but also looked for opportunities for trans people to compete in sports.


Pope Francis issues warning on ‘demographic winter’

A “demographic winter” facing Europe is a very serious concern, according to Pope Francis.

Speaking at a gathering of pro-family groups in Rome, the Pontiff said there is a close link between “regenerative poverty” and the loss of “a sense of the beauty of the family”. He added that “an aging Europe that is not giving birth is a Europe that cannot afford to talk about sustainability and finds it more and more difficult to act in solidarity”.

He also said the concept of an “environmental footprint” cannot be applied to children, since they are “an indispensable resource for the future”. Instead, he said, “consumerism and individualism should be addressed, looking at families as the best example of the optimization of resources involving large economies of scale”

He likewise cautioned against using surrogacy as a solution for the fertility crisis.

“The dignity of men and women is also threatened by the inhuman and increasingly widespread practice of ‘surrogacy’, in which women, almost always poor women, are exploited and children treated as commodities”.

 He concluded by affirming the crucial importance of the family founded on the marriage of one man, one woman. “It is the primary cell of our communities and must be recognized as such, in its unique and indispensable regenerative function”, he said.