Published 26 November in the Courier Mail
LAW changes could risk a birth certificate’s most vital role, which is to list a child’s biological parents.
Flicking on the television the other night, I found myself watching a heart-warming show called Find My Family.
The program tracks down and brings together family members who have never known one another, often because of an adoption.
The show’s web page says: “So many Australians have grown up without a mother, father, brother or sister, and often that absence leaves a gaping hole in their identity. On Find My Family, long-lost loved ones are reunited and that hole is filled with tears of joy.”
They’re right about the tears of joy – including from those of us watching at home.
The other night, as a young woman discovered she had several brothers and sisters, she described the feeling of part of her having been missing for all of her life.
Growing up, and not knowing her father or siblings, left her adrift, unsure of who she was or where she belonged.
Personal stories are powerful and moving. And they have been well used in the lobbying surrounding The Assisted Reproductive Technology Bill in Victoria. Senator Stephen Conroy, a Rudd Government minister, used the power of story – or to be more precise, his daughter’s story.
The Assisted Reproductive Technology Bill, which recently narrowly passed its second reading in the Victorian Parliament, would change surrogacy arrangements and give single women and same-sex couples greater access to IVF.
This is an issue close to Conroy as he and his wife used surrogacy in Sydney to become parents to their daughter, Isabella.
Significantly for Queensland, the Victorian legislation closely mirrors many of the recommendations of the Queensland Parliament’s Investigation into Altruistic Surrogacy Committee.
The introduction of similar legislation in Queensland would be highly likely, although perhaps not until after the next state election.
The Assisted Reproductive Technology Bill, as well as allowing IVF and surrogacy for single women and same-sex couples, also would introduce significant changes to birth certificates.
This includes changes to the designation of parentage on birth certificates, replacing mother and father with Parent 1 and Parent 2, and allowing two men or two women to be nominated and listed as parents.
And this is where most thinking people shake their heads. With the simplest lesson in biology telling us that two people of the same gender can’t make a baby, it is appalling to think our governments would even consider issuing birth certificates listing a biological impossibility – two same-sex parents.
A birth certificate is a legal document and should not be a statement of social engineering, or even a tool for advocates of legal recognition of same-sex relationships. It should be designed to list the biological parents of a child.
Dr Sarah Ferber, from The University of Queensland, said: “In all cases children should have the right to know who gave birth to them and whose gametes were used. This is of great emotional, social and medical importance. The Government is so far lamentably behind in ensuring these rights for children born through the ARTs.”
In his submission to the Queensland committee, Dr Trevor Jordan, a senior lecturer in Applied Ethics at QUT, referred to the scenario of “legal fiction” of birth certificates.
One would hope that governments, trusted to protect citizens, particularly the vulnerable, would not be intentionally allowing for the creation of “legal fiction”. This would seem very dangerous territory. Will a class action suit arise in the future from children who reach adulthood and realise the government, charged with protecting them, in fact denied them the truth about their biological parents?
We all know good and caring people who desperately want to be parents, and for whatever reason, find that dream eludes them. However, as compelling as their stories are, they should not drive us to neglect the rights of children so that society can facilitate their desire to be a parent.
When discussing surrogacy and parenting, the paramount issue to be considered must be the best interests of the child, as opposed to how society can make possible the fulfilment of an adult’s desire to be a parent. Denying a child’s right to a mother and father is denial of a basic right for a child.
In the Queensland committee’s report, they explain: “As trends in adoption, deferred family formation and infertility appear persistent, it seems sensible for the Government to create an environment that maximises the possibility for success and happiness for families created through altruistic surrogacy.”
Perhaps. Or perhaps the Government should be most concerned with creating an environment that maximises the success and happiness for children – one where legislation has not facilitated a gaping hole in their identity.
Ruth Limkin is a Brisbane pastor and writer