Card play and art reveals children’s views of surrogacy for first time
Children with experience of surrogacy are in favour of legal reforms, according to a new study led by the University of Leicester that marks the first time that the views of children will be included in a review of surrogacy laws.
Using a combination of age-appropriate methods, including a unique set of playing cards, researchers have drawn out their views on topics that included how the legal parents of a child born through surrogacy should be decided, whether children should know details of their surrogate and compensation for surrogates.
They are reported in Phase One of the project Children’s Voices in Surrogacy Law, carried out by Dr Katherine Wade (University of Leicester), Dr Kirsty Horsey, (University of Kent) and Ms Zaina Mahmoud (University of Exeter). The findings have been reported to the Law Commission of England and Wales and the Scottish Law Commission.
Surrogacy is an arrangement where a woman becomes pregnant and gives birth to a child or children which she intends will be cared for by other people. Though surrogacy is currently legal in the UK, the legal framework is criticised as not fit for purpose for many reasons, including surrogates’ recognition as legal mothers, the need for Parental Orders (a bespoke legal mechanism transferring legal parenthood to the intended parents), and the opaque situation regarding financial matters.
Children’s Voices in Surrogacy Law involved 25 children aged 8 to 17 who were born through surrogacy or were children of women who acted as surrogates. Data were collected through focus groups, using specially designed playing cards and artwork. The cards were used to play voting, sorting and brainstorming games to explore children’s views on the topics of parenthood, payments and knowledge of origins. Data were also gathered in the form of artwork, as participants created art at the “Art Corner” during the breaks on the theme “What Surrogacy Means to Me”.
Participants recognised that people become parents in different ways and saw love, care, responsibility and support as central features of parenthood.
Current UK law recognises surrogates and their spouses/civil partners (if applicable) as the legal parents of children born through surrogacy. Parenthood is transferred to those who wish to become the parents (intended parents) through a “Parental Order” by the courts. Most participants thought that intended parents should automatically be recognised as the parents following surrogacy, without the need for a Parental Order.
Many participants expressed a strong dislike towards payments for surrogates. Some were concerned that intended parents would be under pressure to pay large amounts. Children of surrogates were concerned by the idea of payment for surrogacy, as this would potentially undermine their mother’s altruistic motivations. Most children born through surrogacy did not object to the idea of payment for surrogacy, though some acknowledged a potential negative impact on surrogate-born children.
Most participants were in favour of openness, saying that children should know their surrogate, whether her own egg was used or not, and whether a donor egg or sperm was used. They were also very much in favour of continued contact between the families after the birth of the child, drawing on their own positive experiences.
Many participants were very open about surrogacy in their lives, and noted how their peers knew little about surrogacy. There was also general agreement that very little was done in schools about surrogacy.
Dr Katherine Wade, Lecturer in Law, University of Leicester said: “Children with experience of surrogacy are open to varying forms of parenthood. They are accepting of intended parents becoming the legal parents of a child born through surrogacy at birth and think the current law should change. While there are differing takes on paying surrogates, the participants were in favour of openness with children who are born through surrogacy regarding the different people involved in their conception. The artwork and discussion also show that children are positive about the way surrogacy generally occurs in this country, which is based on a model where friendship and contact between those who use surrogacy and the surrogate’s family is the norm.
“We are delighted to have been able to ask children and young people their views on surrogacy law. We presented preliminary findings to the Law Commission of England and Wales and the Scottish Law Commission, who will publish a report in Spring, making recommendations for reform to the government. This is the first time that young people’s views on the law are being included in such an important reform agenda on surrogacy.”
The Report from Phase One is available online, with the artwork collected from the focus groups. Data were also collected through artwork which were digitised.
Phase Two of the project is currently underway with children and young people who do not have experience of surrogacy.
The project was funded by the Institute of Medical Ethics and UKRI participatory funding.