Belfast Telegraph

Women assured on donated egg births

Hundreds of women who gave birth using donated eggs can be assured they are the legal mothers of their children after a landmark legal battle, Ireland's Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has declared.

The genetic mother of twins born to a surrogate in Ireland has lost her fight to be officially recognised as their mother in a ground-breaking case closely watched by those impacted around the country.

The unnamed woman, whose sister gave birth to the children using the woman's embryos, first won the case in the High Court in Dublin before being forced to defend it in the Supreme Court - the country's highest legal authority.

The action was taken after the chief registrar of births, deaths and marriages in Ireland said he did not have the power to record the woman's name on the children's birth certificates.

In March last year the High Court supported the woman's case, prompting the Government to appeal on the grounds that it would have massive consequences for women using frozen eggs donated to fertility clinics, among other issues.

The State claimed the transfer of parentage needed to be a public procedure, as in an adoption, rather than a private contract between two people.

After the Supreme Court threw out the earlier High Court ruling today, Ms Fitzgerald said it was confirmed that motherhood is based on birth rather than genetics.

"I know that the ruling must be very difficult for the family involved," she said.

"I am very sympathetic to the truly human circumstances at the heart of this case.

"The State had to appeal this case as it would have overturned our existing law and jurisprudence which sets the birth mother as a child's mother and because it would have fettered the Oireachtas (parliament) in terms of what provisions it could make by law in those areas in the future."

Ms Fitzgerald said the overturned High Court ruling had cast doubt on the legal status of hundreds of women as mothers of their children.

"Those women and their children now have legal certainty," she added.

Health Minister Leo Varadkar admitted laws on assisted human reproduction, surrogacy and gamete donation was long overdue and vowed to bring in proposed legislation before the end of the year.

"It is likely to deal with the issues of legal parentage, surrogacy, egg and sperm donation, and other related issues," he said.

"Our prime concern here is that any law protects, promotes and ensures the health and safety of parents, others involved in the process such as donors and surrogate mothers, and most importantly, the children who will be born as a result of assisted reproduction."

Chief Justice Susan Denham told the Supreme Court the case dealt with complex, social issues but that there was a lacuna in the law on the issue.

The case was heard by seven judges of the Supreme Court with a majority ruling in favour of the State.

Seven separate judgments were outlined in the court.

Judge Denham told the court that Irish law, as it stands, does not address the issue of surrogacy but there is nothing in the Irish Constitution to prevent reform.

She told the court that legislating for the issue was a matter for Parliament.

"The decision of the majority of the court is to allow the appeal," the judge said.

Marion Campbell, lawyer for the genetic parents, said the family was very disappointed with the decision.

"They (judges) have bounced it back to the Government. Legislation needs to be introduced. These aren't the only families involved in this particular type of case," she said.

Legislation to deal with the issue of surrogacy in Ireland had been planned but shelved as the case went through the courts.

Ms Campbell urged action. "I expect them to get on board and get their act together," she said. "It might be a long time coming.

"These children are getting older. They need their legal position corrected."

Ms Campbell added: "Surrogacy is happening here in this country and it is happening internationally and children are being (left) very exposed because there is no legal framework in place in this country to cover their rights.

"It's about time the Government saw that and brought in the necessary legislation."

Ms Campbell said the family wanted to thank relatives, friends, colleagues and their legal team.

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