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Monday, 14 August 2000
Page: 18859

Dr LAWRENCE (3:51 PM) —I just want to take the opportunity to speak on this motion because I think it is important that we do not close our eyes to these complex issues. Unfortunately, the previous speaker seems to want to rely on a small segment of our community to make decisions for all of us. In these very complex areas, I think it is important that the whole community have a say, that we have a full debate and that everyone have a chance to make a contribution. It is all very well to refer it back to working groups. Most of the deliberations of those groups are not made public and are not known by the wider community. I think it is also important to put it in the context of the fact that, when the question has been broadly asked, over 50 per cent of the community have indicated that they are not opposed to surrogacy. They clearly want to see certain constraints placed on it, but they are not opposed to the sorts of aspirations that Peter and Phillippa have. Nonetheless, I recognise that we would need to have a much more wide-ranging debate.

I also acknowledge that these are matters that in the past have been the province of state governments. I was the Premier of Western Australia in 1991 when the proposal that there be uniform legislation was put forward. But if we are capable of getting that uniform legislation in areas, for instance, like the quality of products that are sold in the community and regulations surrounding trade, then surely we are capable of getting it about these very important issues. In our society, infertility is seen as a problem which merits treatment and assistance; it is not something that governments turn their back on. For some, surrogate motherhood is the only hope they have of raising a child that is genetically related to at least one of the potential parents—and in the case we have heard about, probably both of them.

As I am sure members would be aware, surrogacy occurs when a woman agrees to become pregnant and bear a child for another person or persons to whom custody will be transferred after birth. Demand often comes from women and their partners when the woman is physically incapable of pregnancy for a number of reasons. As we have heard in the present case, it could be as a result of an accident, or it could be because of a hysterectomy, a history of spontaneous abortions or a dangerous medical condition, such as kidney disease.

Surrogacy is rare. We are not talking here about wholesale involvement of the community, but just a very few instances. There is, however, likely to be some small increase in demand for two reasons: one, rising infertility in our community, and that is another problem altogether; and, two, a decline in the number of children who are available for adoption. Many families I am sure would be happy to take on other children but do not have the opportunity to do so. It has been estimated in one study that, between 1977 and 1987, about 40 surrogate births occurred. We simply do not know how many arrangements are being entered into at the moment.

It might seem unnecessary to have another inquiry, but I think it is time for a full, open debate on this. There have been 10 committees of inquiry in Australia into surrogacy and related reproductive technologies. All but one, I think it is fair to say, expressed grave reservations about the practice or recommended that it be prohibited or curtailed.

The legislation that does exist, but not in all jurisdictions, contains certain similar features. For instance, all of them prevent advertising, something I am sure we would all recommend. They by and large render surrogate arrangements unenforceable; in other words, the surrogate mother cannot be required to relinquish. They apply when a woman is already pregnant and an agreement is entered into. Most importantly, they distinguish between altruistic and commercial surrogacy, and I am sure that is the one element we would all want to see retained, no matter the outcome of any deliberations. But not all states have the legislation, the definitions are confusing—for instance, what is commercial surrogacy?—and the degree of prohibition varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. I think there is a need for uniformity. All Australians should be treated in the same way.

However, like many, I would call for caution, and an inquiry can apply that. We need to recognise the pain of infertility at the beginning, we need to understand the possible psychological consequences for the surrogate mother and for the child as well, and we need to recognise the severe ethical dilemmas that surround these decisions. Some would argue that surrogacy is something that should be prohibited altogether. Others say there are certain circumstances in which it should be allowed. Others worry about the fact that it is commercialised effectively, compartmentalising the mother. We do not know how these arrangements would affect the child. Nonetheless, I think we are a mature enough society to debate these issues openly and to come to a set of conclusions which mean that all Australians are treated equally so that people who might aspire to surrogacy well understand the position they are in, instead of the confusing uncertainty they face at the moment. Peter and Philippa are very brave to have put their case before the Australian people, and I hope the government will listen to them and consider it carefully. (Time expired)