2 – 8 August 2021 marks National Surrogacy Week, a week-long celebration of UK surrogacy and UK surrogacy choices.
In the world of fertility, the week falls shortly after the 43rd birthday of the first baby (Louise Brown) born via IVF on 25 July 1978, and this year also marks the 30th anniversary of the establishment of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority founded in 1991.
There has been a steady increase in demand in the UK for family building via surrogacy, and 367 parental orders were granted in England and Wales in 2018 - an increase from 117 in 2011. A parental order is a requirement in England and Wales in order to transfer the status of legal parent from the surrogate mother (and her spouse or civil partner if applicable) to the intended parent/s. There are now four national altruistic surrogacy organisations in the UK and most recently these have been joined by 'My Surrogacy Journey' founded in 2020 by 'Two Dads' Michael and Wes Johnson-Ellis, who having had a son and daughter born via surrogacy, recognised the need for a surrogacy organisation providing all-encompassing support for both intended parents and surrogates.
Despite an increase in demand for family building via surrogacy, the law regulating surrogacy in the UK remains outdated. The key principles of UK surrogacy law remain underpinned by legislation passed over 35 years ago. It is now widely accepted that the law is no longer fit for purpose, particularly in light of changes in societal attitudes and far reaching developments in reproductive technology which have significantly altered previously held views of family building and parenthood.
There have been some positive developments in the past decade, including an amendment to legislation which came into effect in 2019 resulting in single parents being able to apply for parental orders. Prior to that amendment, it had only been possible for those married, in a civil a partnership or in an enduring family relationship to apply for such orders. Further, the Family Court has demonstrated its creativity in interpreting the outdated legislation in order to achieve outcomes which are ultimately considered to be in the best interests of children born via surrogacy. However, the law is now well overdue for re-examination and those considering entering into surrogacy arrangements are often faced with having to grapple with multiple and complex regulations. The Law Commission completed a consultation in respect to surrogacy reform in 2019, and its initial proposals included a suggested new pathway for domestic surrogacies allowing intended parents to become a child's legal parents at birth, together with a range of safeguards before a surrogacy arrangement is entered into.
It is expected that the Law Commission's final recommendations for reform of surrogacy law and a draft Bill will be published in 2022. The recommendations will be eagerly awaited by the UK surrogacy community and it is hoped National Surrogacy Week 2022 will be an opportunity to celebrate the much awaited UK surrogacy law reform.