With a range of inconsistent statutes amongst member states, surrogacy is becoming a political football in Europe. Accusations of conflict of interest are being raised in the lead-up to a debate next week in a committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).
(Non-Europeans will have to concentrate very hard to track the Byzantine layers of bureaucratic acronyms. Sorry.)
On March 15, in Paris, the Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development Committee of PACE will consider a draft report on “human rights and ethical issues related to surrogacy” and probably vote on a draft resolution and recommendations.
The report has been written by a Belgian member of the European Parliament, Dr Petra de Sutter, who made fact-finding visits to the UK and the Ukraine last year. If the report is adopted, it will be debated by the 324-member plenary Assembly, which brings together parliamentarians from all 47 member States of the Council of Europe.
Dr de Sutter is a controversial choice as a rapporteur. She is a member of the Belgian Greens and head of the Department of Reproductive Medicine at Ghent University Hospital. She is a partner with an Indian surrogacy clinic, Seeds of Innocence. The clinic boasts that she had made its service “unique” in a highly competitive market for international patients.
She is also an openly transgender politician. Her autobiography (Over)leven: Mijn strijd als transvrouw, arts en politica ((Over) life: My struggle as a trans woman, doctor and politician) was only published a few weeks ago.
She was criticised in the French edition of the Huffington Post over an apparent conflict of interest over her association with Seeds of Innocence. In a strongly-worded response, she said that her colleagues had found that there was no conflict of interest. She rejected commercial surrogacy and even thought that it should be banned. However, Europe has to accept that surrogacy exists and that vulnerable children and mothers should be supported.
Dr de Sutter faces stiff opposition. A number of official EU documents take a very dim view of surrogacy as a solution for infertility.
The Annual Report on Human Rights and Democracy in the World 2014 and the European Union’s policy on the matter (which was voted on in December 2015) stated that it: “Condemns the practice of surrogacy, which undermines the human dignity of the woman since her body and its reproductive functions are used as a commodity; considers that the practice of gestational surrogacy which involves reproductive exploitation and use of the human body for financial or other gain, in particular in the case of vulnerable women in developing countries, shall be prohibited and treated as a matter of urgency in human rights instruments.”
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