Tuesday, 24 March 2015
Children and Family Relationships Bill 2015: Second Stage
I thank Senator Bacik for yielding so graciously. I will share my time with Senator Quinn, who has indicated that three minutes would be sufficient.
I welcome the Bill. The Minister has quite rightly said, and I know this comes from the heart, that the starting point is the privacy and the best interest of the child. Everyone in this House agrees with this. She made reference to a Supreme Court judgment regarding the birth mother of a donor-conceived child. That seems to be one of the maddest decisions of the Supreme Court. It is absolutely daft. A mother who is a host to a fertilised egg is the mother of the child, despite having no biological connection with it? I do not understand it. We will leave that to one side, however.
The Minister said that anonymous donation was being prohibited so as to ensure that donor-conceived children would have the possibility of tracing their identity. I want to make this point very strongly, because it is an issue the Minister might look at. It is actually not opening up the possibility; it is forcing the information on the child, because this information is contained in the birth certificate. I ask her to look at that again. She is quite right when she says that a child should have the possibility of accessing the information, but it should be only the possibility. There may well be some children for whom this comes as an unwelcome piece of information.
Then there is the question of the interim period, the kind of flow-in period of 18 to 24 months. That is inadequate. The Minister probably had correspondence from the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists which makes this very plain. There is a considerable difference of opinion here.
Senator van Turnhout quoted many statistics. I welcome this. I have received the same information from the Children's Rights Alliance. It is worth putting on the record that 500,000 children are growing up in different types of family. That is a significant number of children. It is not only the 308,000 children living with unmarried, cohabiting parents, lone mothers and so on, but also those living with the 42,960 people who have divorced and remarried. Of these, 56% of remarried women and 22% of remarried men are living with children. Some 6,454 children are living in State care. There are no statistics for children who are living full-time with grandparents. Approximately 70% of heterosexual couples using donated sperm or eggs have opted for anonymous donation. That is a substantial majority of people who are in this situation, and this will be violently altered. Some 40% of single women or lesbian couples also go for anonymous donations. In addition, 2-4% of fathers raising children are not the biological parents of the child.
Many of us may not have realised that there is no sperm donation in this country. All sperm donated and used here is imported, mostly from Denmark, and donor eggs used to come mostly from Ukraine. Denmark allows both anonymous and non-anonymous donation, while donation in the Ukraine is all anonymous. The majority of couples having egg donation travel to Spain or the Czech Republic, where donation is anonymous.This practice will undoubtedly continue for quite a number of years. It will take a slow cultural change for the majority of Irish heterosexual couples to move to open donation. Again, there is a strong argument for this long link-up period.
Another point that needs to be made but that has not been made so far relates to the language in the Bill. In reference to prohibition on anonymity, the Bill refers to procedures taking place in the State "leading to the implantation of an embryo". We need some clarification in this regard because the whole question of facilitating is so general that it opens up a very wide area. As we know, an increasing number of couples travel abroad for this treatment and this will expand considerably when the Bill passes. It would be a great shame if people who provide scans, obstetric and psychiatric counselling and so on were inadvertently criminalised by this Bill.
I forgot to say well done to the Minister earlier for bringing in this Bill. The political arithmetic guarantees it will slide through. It will tear the hypocritical veil away from people like those in the Iona Institute who are making out that the equality referendum is all about children, but that has nothing whatever to do with it. When this Bill is finished, that one will be gone to hell forever. Let it never be confused: the equality referendum is about equality. The other side had better lump it because this Bill deals with adoption and guardianship of children.
I put it to the Minister that I would not have voted for the Civil Registration Bill. It did not go to a vote in this House - I believe the Minister was a Member of this House at the time - but I said I would not vote for it because of the way it completely and scandalously neglected children. This Bill, and well done to the Minister, is the antidote to that legislation.
There is a question of the run-in time, time limits and exceptions. Correspondence I have from the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists states that those who already have gametes or embryos donated anonymously and frozen before the commencement date will be allowed to use these gametes and embryos for three years after the commencement date. The institute "feels that this period is medically inappropriate", a very strong sentence. The correspondence continues with the view that if a person or couple wishes to have several children, it would not be possible to fit these pregnancies into a three-year timeframe. It is common for several surface embryos to be produced in a donor egg in vitrofertilisation cycle. Best practice is to transfer a single embryo with a view to a singleton rather than multiple pregnancy and to cryopreserve the rest. A time limit of three years on embryo use will raise a clinical and ethical dilemma. It may pressurise parents to undergo transfer of their frozen embryos in a shorter timeframe than medically advised. It may also encourage a transfer of more than one embryo, leading to multiple pregnancies and higher risks for mothers and babies. For patients who are not in a position to use their embryos within the three-year timeframe, the ethical dilemma of destroying embryos will have to be faced. Now let us hear the pro-life brigade on the matter of forcing embryos to be destroyed. The institute strongly believes that the duration of the time limit of exceptions outlined in head 12 should be extended from three to ten years.
I have received a very disturbing letter on this point from a man who is unable to have children because he does not produce sperm. He and his wife decided to accept a sperm donation anonymously and they had a son, who gave radiance and beauty to their life. They wanted to continue and have another child who would be a sibling child for their existing child. The clinic held some of their donor sperm and last year they started again. They were unsuccessful. However, they are on the routine again. The crucial paragraph in the letter states:
We were devastated to hear this morning that our clinic would not proceed as we had planned due to the new Bill. Our next opportunity to conceive will be after the legislation is due to come into effect on 24 March. The legislation, as it is proposed, will not allow our son to have a true genetic sibling and force us to use a different donor, if we can find one. This is a terrible blow to my wife and I.