Mod­ern fam­ily? More like a legal mine­field

The Advertiser - SA Weekend - - FRONT PAGE -

SADLY, for ev­ery So­nia Kruger, there’s a Sofia Ver­gara. Kruger is the poster girl for mod­ern fer­til­ity so­lu­tions, while Ver­gara is the cau­tion­ary tale.

At 49 Kruger is the happy mother of a gor­geous baby, Maggie, now five months. She’s openly talked about how thrilled she is to be a mother af­ter years of fer­til­ity treat­ment. She also went out of her way to stress that she used IVF and an egg donor.

It was a re­fresh­ing and hon­est ap­proach that showed that com­plex fer­til­ity mat­ters do not have to be con­tro­ver­sial, legally dif­fi­cult or hid­den from public view. On the other hand, Ver­gara, the star of

shows what can hap­pen when it all goes very wrong. She is tak­ing her ex fi­ancé Nick Loeb to court to stop him hav­ing ac­cess to the fer­tilised em­bryos they cre­ated to­gether six months be­fore they sep­a­rated. Loeb wants to “save” the two re­main­ing em­by­ros and have them im­planted into a sur­ro­gate and brought to term. “A woman is en­ti­tled to bring a preg­nancy to term even if the man ob­jects,” he said.

How­ever, it’s not an easy is­sue. Un­der the stor­age agree­ment, the em­bryos can only be re­moved from the fa­cil­ity with the con­sent of both Loeb and Ver­gara. Sadly, there were no pro­vi­sions for what would hap­pen if the cou­ple sep­a­rated. This means a nasty court case will now be fought over what right th­ese two peo­ple have over the em­bryos they cre­ated back when they were in love.

It’s a messy sit­u­a­tion that was un­think­able a few years ago. It goes to show the law clearly hasn’t kept up with the myr­iad ways we now have of form­ing fam­i­lies. This is im­por­tant, be­cause the bat­tles are not just over cars, houses or busi­nesses, but real peo­ple and their rights.

As the Loeb-Ver­gara spat shows, th­ese fights go to the heart of life: the right of two em­bryos to be im­planted and po­ten­tially be­come peo­ple.

I must stress that I am a happy mother-of-three, so do not be­grudge any­one else the op­por­tu­nity to do what­ever it takes to make a fam­ily. I to­tally sup­port the mar­vels of mod­ern science be­ing used to cre­ate all sorts of won­der­ful fam­i­lies. Whether it’s a donor egg, donor sperm or a sur­ro­gate, I’m all for it. How­ever, we should re­mem­ber that th­ese won­der­ful new fam­i­lies can cre­ate legal, moral and eth­i­cal mine­fields which are still not well un­der­stood.

This is not a rea­son not to go down this path, just a re­minder that it can be very com­pli­cated in­deed.

For in­stance, in a re­cent case in the US there has been legal ac­tion over the cus­tody of triplets born to a sur­ro­gate mother. The woman took the ba­bies home from hos­pi­tal for eight months and looked af­ter them when the man who con­tracted her to carry them did not claim them. Both the egg donor and the fa­ther are now claim­ing cus­tody of the chil­dren be­cause of their bi­o­log­i­cal links, de­spite the fact that the sur­ro­gate is the only par­ent the ba­bies have known.

Clearly, bet­ter legal safe­guards need to be in place to pro­tect both the chil­dren and the par­ents.

This was also il­lus­trated with the case of baby Gammy, the lit­tle boy with Down syn­drome born to a Thai sur­ro­gate mother who was re­jected by his Aus­tralian bi­o­log­i­cal fa­ther.

No doubt some peo­ple are ask­ing where it will all end. For ex­am­ple, just be­cause sci­en­tists cre­ate chil­dren with three bi­o­log­i­cal par­ents, should they do so? Chil­dren with the DNA from three dif­fer­ent peo­ple have been born in the US in a pi­o­neer­ing process that was later banned. The tech­nique is still un­der con­sid­er­a­tion in a few other coun­tries, pri­mar­ily as a way to elim­i­nate ge­netic dis­eases.

Some of th­ese new treat­ments fun­da­men­tally chal­lenge our ac­cepted norms: that bi­o­log­i­cal par­ents have cer­tain rights, that chil­dren have both a mother and fa­ther, that only two names should be on a birth cer­tifi­cate, and so on. Some peo­ple have ques­tioned th­ese ar­range­ments, say­ing ev­ery child needs a mother and a fa­ther. But this is ridicu­lous.

Stud­ies show rain­bow kids, IVF kids, and donor kids and their “di­b­lings” are just as happy and suc­cess­ful as any other chil­dren. It’s the qual­ity of the re­la­tion­ship that mat­ters, not the way the fam­ily is formed, or the gen­der or bi­o­log­i­cal make-up of the kids. But boy, it sure can get com­pli­cated. Just look at Sofia Ver­gara, who’s bring­ing new mean­ing to the term mod­ern fam­ily. Blog with Susie at Susieobrie­n.com.au and fol­low her on Twit­ter @susieob and on Face­book.com/NewswithSu­se

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