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The UK's surrogacy laws were written in the 1980s and are woefully out of date.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to the intended parents through a court process which takes up to a year after the birth, and has problematic and outdated criteria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 payments which exceed expenses
  • 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 our sister organisation NGA Law, 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 hard in many ways to make it happen. 

In 2014 we worked with Jessica Lee MP who raised a Westminster Hall debate in Parliament about the need for reform of UK surrogacy law.  This was the first time UK surrogacy law reform was raised substantially in Parliament, and put surrogacy on the agenda 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.

In 2019 we won a law change ending discrimination against single parents.  Our sister organisation NGA Law fought and won the human rights case of Re Z (2016), challenging the fact that only couples could apply for parental orders if they had a child through surrogacy, with support from Brilliant Beginnings.  We were then involved in the drafting of the new law enabling single parents to apply for parental orders, which came into force in January 2019.  Read more about the story from the NGA Law blog.

Following the Re Z (2016) judgment, the government also asked the Law Commissions of England and Wales, and Scotland (the independent bodies which recommend changes to outdated laws) to review UK surrogacy law.  Their surrogacy law reform project began in spring 2018 and will report in 2021.  They have made some positive provisional proposals for UK surrogacy law reform on which they are currently consulting.  Read more and respond to the Law Commission consultation here. The Law Commission have also produced an excellent info graphic summary here.

Pending law reform, Brilliant Beginnings has also worked closely with the Department of Health (and other leading UK surrogacy organisations) to write the first ever government guidance on surrogacy, which was launched in February 2018, and is available on gov.uk.

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:

  • A legal mechanism to enable the intended parents to be recognised as the child's parents from birth wherever possible
  • Law which is workable and includes all children born through surrogacy, wherever in the world
  • Written surrogacy agreements and other sensible protections to be encouraged before conception to ensure UK surrogacy arrangements are well-managed and to avoid exploitation
  • Prompt recognition of the status of children born through surrogacy overseas, ending the long wait to come home and secure parenthood
  • Clarity that UK law permits UK and overseas surrogates to be compensated for the 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