Bioethical dilemmas know no boundaries

November 5, 2007

Bioethical dilemmas know no boundaries. France found that out this weekend when the daily Libération revealed that a French couple that had used a surrogate mother in the United States had won a long legal battle to be recognised as the parents of the twin girls who resulted from the arrangement. Surrogacy is illegal in France. French officials refused to register the twins as the couple’s daughters, leaving them in a legal limbo for seven years. But an appeals court finally granted their wish, arguing it was in the children’s best interests to recognise the U.S. birth certificates that listed Dominique and Sylvie (their surname was not published) as the parents.

an expectant mother France banned surrogacy in 1994 in the hope of preventing a “rent-a-womb” market from developing. But this option is expressly banned by law only in France, Germany and Italy, according to the association CLARA which campaigns to change the French law. It is legal in other places, including Britain, Canada, Greece, New Zealand and some U.S. states. According to the twins’ father Dominique, between 20 to 40 French couples cross the Atlantic every year to have a child with a surrogate American mother.

Since Sylvie and Dominique were recognised as the twins’ parents in a state where surrogacy is legal, they could not be brought to court for breaking the law there. French courts tried to try them for aiding and abetting a case of surrogacy or violating the civil status of the children, but neither charge led to a conviction, Le Monde reported.

Sylvie, who could not conceive because she has no uterus, had her eggs fertilised in vitro by Dominique’s semen to create embryos that were genetically their own and carried to term by the “gestational carrier.” She told Europe 1 radio that the surrogate mother in California did not profit from the arrangement. Already a mother of four, she bore the child voluntarily for Sylvie and was only reimbursed for lost wages during the pregnancy. Rather than being poor and doing this for money, the surrogate mother and her husband actually had a combined annual income three times that of the French couple, their lawyer Nathalie Boudjerada told the radio.

Le Figaro called the decision “the first step towards the legalisation of surrogate mothers” in France. Paris plans to review its bioethics law in 2009.

An interesting little detail — since the French consulate in Los Angeles refused to register the twins as French citizens, Libération said, the couple simply applied for and got American passports for them to travel to France.

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