UK surrogacy law reform

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The UK's surrogacy laws were written in the 1980s and are woefully out of date. Under the current law:

  • The surrogate and her spouse are the legal parents
  • Surrogacy agreements are not legally recognised
  • Parents who have children through surrogacy overseas are the legal parents in the country where their child is born but not in the UK 
  • Parenthood is transferred to the intended parents through a court process which takes up to a year after the birth, and has problematic and outdated criteria
  • The law appears to restrict payments to 'reasonable expenses' but in reality the courts routinely authorise compensation
  • In the UK it is illegal to advertise, and for surrogacy agencies to make a profit 

Against this backdrop, it is not surprising that not enough UK surrogates come forward. The surrogacy framework feels murky, and does not support a surrogate’s commitment to carry someone else's child. UK surrogacy arrangements are frayed with vulnerability, leaving people to enter into arrangements informally and muddle through without any legal process until after the child is born.  Most parents now instead go overseas for surrogacy, but international surrogacy carries its own challenges and concerns, including UK children frequently born stateless and parentless.  

With ever-increasing numbers, the current law is being stretched to breaking point.  High Court judges have described it as 'irreconcilably conflicting' and 'the very antithesis of sensible' and, in case after case, have called for 'better regulation' of surrogacy in the UK.  Reform is long overdue.

Working towards surrogacy law reform

At Brilliant Beginnings and Natalie Gamble Associates, we have campaigned for UK surrogacy law reform since 2007, and have already won some progressive change (see our Past Successes).  We now want to see a full review of UK surrogacy law, and we are working closely with government, Parliamentarians, the media, and other charities and UK surrogacy organisations to make it happen.  

In 2014 we worked with Jessica Lee MP who raised a Westminster Hall debate in Parliament about UK surrogacy law.  This first UK debate on full UK surrogacy law reform brought the issue to government's attention and led to the creation of a cross-governmental working group on surrogacy.  

In 2016 we launched an online petition on Change.org setting out our agenda for change, which was signed by more than 1,000 people in 3 days.

Following the human rights ruling in our Re Z (2016) case, the government asked the Law Commission (the independent body which recommends changes to outdated laws) whether it would consider reviewing UK surrogacy law as part of its next programme of work.  The Law Commission has since been consulting on whether to do so, and we have been working with them closely, preparing detailed formal submissions.  

Brilliant Beginnings is also currently working with the Department of Health to create the first ever good practice government guidance on surrogacy which is expected to appear on government websites later in 2017.

How we think UK surrogacy law needs to change

We need a proper legal framework for surrogacy in the UK which works in a global context and reflects the UK’s values of putting children's welfare first. Surrogacy is not going away.  To manage it properly, and to make safe ethical surrogacy more accessible, we are calling for:

  • Where everyone agrees, parental orders able to be made during the pregnancy to make the intended parents the child's legal parents from birth
  • A review of the parental order criteria to ensure the law is workable and includes all children born through surrogacy
  • Written surrogacy agreements (as statements of intent rather than binding contracts) to be encouraged before conception so key issues are settled upfront
  • Prompt recognition of the status of children born through surrogacy overseas, ending the long wait to come home
  • Clarity that UK law permits surrogates to be compensated for inconvenience as part of their expenses, reflecting reality and allowing this issue to be dealt with more honestly and transparently
  • The family court deciding what is in the child's best interests if there is a dispute, so that children’s welfare remains paramount (such cases being rare in practice)
  • Within the existing non-profit model of UK surrogacy arrangement services, more workable rules and an abolition of the restrictions on advertising 
  • Rights to information (accessible in adulthood) for children born through surrogacy in the UK and overseas, in line with the law on gamete donation 

For guidance on writing to your MP to help support our campaign please click here.

Sign our online petition here: https://www.change.org/p/uk-government-it-s-time-to-review-uk-surrogacy-law