By Michael Cook 16 August 2014
Australian law could be revised to allow more than two parents, if recommendations in a major report are accepted by the government. A “Report On Parentage And The Family Law Act”, was released this week.
Adoption and new reproduction technologies are placing new strains on what “parent” means in contemporary society. Because of “the evidence of family diversity and children’s views about who is a parent”, the Council has recommended that the word “parent” be replaced by “other significant adults” or “other people of significance to the child” and that references to “both” (which implies only two) parents should be omitted.
There are many kinds of parents, the Council points out: legal, adoptive, genetic, intending, psychological, social and surrogate, amongst others.
The report was commissioned by the previous Labor government and was completed last December. The delay meant that it was released when commercial surrogacy is being placed under a microscope.
Although legalising commercial surrogacy – which is currently banned in Australia — was not included in the report’s terms of reference, the Family Law Council, which produced the report, clearly is in favour. It is “conscious that the number of children conceived as a result of overseas commercial surrogacy arrangements has increased dramatically in the past several years, despite the existence of Australian laws prohibiting such arrangements.” It favours an international convention on surrogacy.
International commercial surrogacy already involves hundreds of children. “According to community group Surrogacy Australia, in 2011 the estimated numbers of births to Australians via surrogacy arrangements were 45 Australian babies born in the US, 45 in Thailand and 315 in India.” (Now that both Thailand and India have closed their doors to international surrogacy, this is bound to change.)
Some of the background unearthed by the Council is thought-provoking. For instance, it says that commercial surrogacy is potentially quite corrupt. In countries like India, Thailand and Malaysia, “The lack of a legal framework in these countries, coupled with the poverty of many of the population, increases the potential for exploitation of the surrogate mother as well as the risks of child trafficking.”