This morning in Ireland, a high court justice decided a lawsuit against 1937 government rules and in recognition of the power of changing times. It comes at an opportune time--the worldwide celebration of International Women's Day.
The dilemma sprang from a woman's inability to carry children, although she and her husband were both fertile. Realizing the couple's desire for children and distress at a painful life situation, the woman's sister volunteered to carry the couple's fertilized embryo to term. She served as surrogate mother. Nine months after a successful implantation, the result was twins.
Then the story got complicated. In Ireland, surrogacy is currently unregulated. Instead of recording the genetic (biological) mother of the children on their birth certificates, the Chief Registrar of the Irish government, recorded her sister's name.
The government based its decision on a constitution made up over 75 years ago that designated a child's "mother" as the woman who gave birth. The registrar's decision to refuse the parents' request for the genetic mother to be recorded on the birth certificates rather than the surrogate was reaffirmed at a hearing in January.
Profoundly upset by this decision, the genetic mother sued. Today she won her landmark lawsuit. Her children's birth certificates will now reflect her as their legal female parent.
The judge, Dublin High Court Justice Henry Abbott, provided a refreshingly sensible ruling. It might serve as a caution to those in the United States who fail to recognize our centuries-older constitution as a living document, capable of reinterpretation with the times.
The Court heard testimony from the registry, infertility experts, and reproductive endocrinologists. In his decision, the judge stated that the old but current Irish law needed to be updated to reflect today's medical reality around birth. In the court's view, the word "mother" only reflected the sister's status when she was carrying the unborn.
While the gestational mother, who carried the offspring, deserved respect and input into the care of her sister's unborn children, the decision as to maternity should be made on a genetic basis. RTÉ News reported that Mr. Justice Abbott noted that any other ruling would be invidious, irrational, and unfair.
In vitro conception, artificial insemination, embryo implantation, surrogate motherhood, and other advanced fertility techniques are now a matter of fact. Judge Abbott stated that laws must be updated to reflect social changes their original creators could not have anticipated. A later law, the Status of Children Act, uses DNA to confirm parentage, thus confirming the constitutional reassessment.
The parents' solicitor (lawyer) stated that her clients were satisfied by the ruling, and that "It has been a very long, hard and emotional time for them and they would like to express their thanks for the support shown to them by their family, friends, and legal representatives."
An Irish legislator, Minister Alan Shatter, is preparing a Family Relationships and Children Bill to clarify the regulations on assisted human reproduction later this year.
Based in Chicago, Sandy Dechert has been covering women's health for Examiner.com since the webzine's official startup. She followed the creation and progress of the Affordable Care Act of 2010. Sandy has also reported on the 2012-2013 influenza epidemic, top women's health news of 2012, and the fungal meningitis outbreaks.
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