As clinics offering cheap surrogacy overseas shut their doors to foreigners, pressure is mounting in Australia to permit commercial surrogacy.
In an article in this month’s Australia and New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, an IVF doctor and a surrogacy broker argue that most Australians support commercial surrogacy and that the laws should be changed to permit it as long as it is carefully regulated. They report that most respondents to an online survey thought that the surrogate mothers and the intending parents should negotiate a price, although some thought that a fixed figure of $15,000 would be adequate.
Co-author Professor Kelton Tremellen told the ABC that if legalisation were in place Australians could find a local surrogate "instead of being desperate and going to developing countries". Professional guidelines could include age restrictions on surrogates, mental health checks, mandatory cooling-off periods and adequate counselling.
Changing the law may be difficult. The National Health and Medical Research Council is adamantly opposed, arguing that “compensated surrogate motherhood reduces a woman's status to that of an incubator, an undignified, dehumanising experience only chosen by financially desperate women.” A recent parliamentary inquiry also supported the current ban on commercial surrogacy.
The authors may also be inflating the degree of support for commercial surrogacy. The survey on which their article is based was conducted online with 500 Australians. Only 70% of these had an opinion about commercial surrogacy, and of these only 58% supported it. In other words, 42% of those surveyed believed the current ban is unjustified, not “over half”. Furthermore, only people between the ages of 18 and 49 were surveyed. “The survey did not consider the views of older Australians since their views were considered less relevant,” the authors explained. Since the 18-49 age bracket represents only about 42% of all Australians, it is unlikely that a surrogacy lobby will have an easy time of selling its ideas to the broader public.
California’s assisted suicide law came into effect on June 9. Betsy Davis, an artist with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, was one of the first to take advantage of the legislation. She drank a lethal cocktail on July 23, after a long party with close friends. I’m afraid that we missed the story at the time.
Reading her sister’s account of Betsy’s death, which is full of loving sorrow at her passing, I was struck by how quickly Californians started to ignore all the careful safeguards. It is clearly specified in the law that the person must “self-administer” the drug. But she was too weak to hold the cup and drink it quickly, so her friends held it for her. They may have broken the law.
People tend to think that a lethal barbiturate brings about death quickly. This wasn’t true in Betsy’s case – she lingered on for four hours. Given that the drug was a homemade cocktail of morphine, pentobarbital and chloral hydrate which smelled like paint, her friends were “lucky” that it worked. Some assisted suicide patients in Oregon have woken up to discover that their suicide has failed.
It wasn’t a good beginning for the law.
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