Australian surrogacy laws need reform, say advocates

Dr Shane Woods and his partner Scott Koopman with their twins, born via surrogate. Photo: SUPPLIED Photo: SUPPLIED
Dr Shane Woods and his partner Scott Koopman with their twins, born via surrogate. Photo: SUPPLIED Photo: SUPPLIED

Sydney doctor Shane Woods had always wanted to start a family but it was only when he met architect Scott Koopman, the idea began to take shape.

The couple, who married in the US in 2008 and are both American citizens, considered all their options before deciding to engage a surrogacy agency based in California where they welcomed their twins last year.

"It went from being a lifelong dream to a reality," Dr Woods said. "They are both thriving and just the loves of our lives. They are just the most wonderful gift."

While the Woollahra general practitioner and his architect partner are relishing raising the baby boy and girl, who turn one in June, they are concerned about the limited options for Australians interested in surrogacy.

A Federal Government review of Australian surrogacy legislation handed down a recommendation in May that commercial surrogacy remain illegal but called for the Attorney-General to request an inquiry to state and territory laws, with the option of developing a national approach to altruistic surrogacy.

Californian legislation is favourable to surrogacy, with Mr Koopman, arguing Australia could adopt a similar framework.

"It's a cop out to give this blanket statement that Australia should not consider commercial surrogacy," he said. "We talk about how it should be well-regulated and protective of all parties, yet we seem too scared to actually write those regulations."

Sam Everingham, director of Australian support network Families Through Surrogacy, said Australian legislation needed an overhaul, with consideration given to commercial surrogacy .

Figures compiled by Families Through Surrogacy show there were only 35 babies born through altruistic surrogacy arrangements in Australia in 2013.

Families Through Surrogacy estimates there were more than 400 overseas surrogate births to Australians last year, including about 135 from Thailand and 70 from the US.

New restrictions introduced in Thailand in the wake of the Baby Gammy case have resulted in an increase in surrogate births in the US, where a surrogacy arrangement can cost up to $200,000, or using less expensive but riskier services in countries such as Cambodia and Laos.

Families Through Surrogacy is hosting an international conference in Brisbane in June, to educate intended parents or potential surrogates about the legal and ethical issues surrounding the process.

"It's in no-one's best interests to enter surrogacy arrangements without a clear understanding of the issues," conference chairman Karen Mills said.

Mr Everingham said many Australian couples would like to use a local surrogate but are uncomfortable with not being able to legally compensate them.

"There are very few altruistic surrogates in Australia," he said.

"It's hard to attract them unless we feel as if we are compensating them for the work they are doing. There has been a lot of reluctance among Australians to consider pregnancy as work."

This story Australian surrogacy laws need reform, say advocates first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.