Stephen and Russell are gay, disabled and want a baby. Do they have a right to ask a surrogate to bear their child?

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The Independent Online
A gay male couple, both of whom are disabled, declared their determination to have a child of their own yesterday despite opposition from doctors, social workers and health managers.

Russell Conlon, 39, and his partner Stephen, 32, are seeking a lesbian couple prepared to enter a surrogacy arrangement to provide them with a baby, after being turned down as foster carers by their local social services department. In return they say they would provide the sperm for the lesbian couple to have a baby of their own.

The case triggered calls from Conservative family campaigners for the law on surrogacy to be tightened and from doctors who said clarification was needed of what kinds of infertility treatment the National Health Service should fund.

Ministers are reviewing surrogacy arrangements after a case involving a Dutch couple went wrong when the English surrogate mother they had paid pounds 13,000 to carry the baby chose to keep it.

The latest case will increase pressure for changes to be made, but ministers are understood to be reluctant to venture into an area regarded as an ethical minefield.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority said the level of expenses paid to surrogate mothers required examination, but the law was otherwise working well.

Mr Conlon, who "married" his gay partner last year in a ceremony blessed by a priest after an on/off relationship lasting 10 years, told The Independent yesterday of his lifelong desire for a child. "It would be worth more to me than winning pounds 10m on the lottery. We can give a child as much love, care, understanding and discipline as any heterosexual couple can," he said. "We are married in the eyes of God, we have a marriage certificate, we wear rings and our marriage was blessed by the church. Whether you are single, married, disabled, straight or gay you still have the right to try for a child."

They have been answering advertisements in the gay press from lesbian couples seeking gay males and offering "mutually beneficial arrangements" - the code for sperm donation. However, they are both living on state benefits and admitted that they could not afford to pay thousands of pounds in expenses.

Earlier, speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Mr Conlon said that he and his partner had had no luck so far but remained hopeful.

"If we could share a baby with a lesbian couple that could be just as good. They could have it three or four nights a week and we could have it two or three nights. Then we would go through the midnight feeds and changing nappies that are part of what having a baby is about," he said.

The couple, from north Manchester, applied to the Manchester social services department to adopt or foster a child, but were turned down on the grounds of their disability. Mr Conlon suffers from an inherited brittle bone disease and Stephen, who did not wish to give his second name, has epilepsy following a car accident two years ago.

They are now applying to the London-based charity, Parents for Children, which specialises in placing older children with disabilities.

Medical organisations called for guidance through the moral maze raised by such cases. Although medical treatment might not be necessary - lesbian couples can artificially inseminate themselves - if it were helping a gay couple have a child might not be construed as health care because they were incapable of conceiving under normal circumstances.

Valerie Riches, director of Family and Youth Concern, said the surrogacy law needed tightening to exclude gay couples. "The situation has got completely out of hand. They don't seem to be thinking of the rights of the child to be born to a man and a woman so he or she has got a solid base to start from," she said. Health department officials are known to believe that the only way of strengthening the law would be to follow the United States route of legally binding contracts, backed by elaborate systems of counselling and consent, which impose a legal duty on the surrogate mother to give up the child following delivery.

This runs counter to United Kingdom law, which is founded on the principle of a woman's right to choose and accounts for ministers' reluctance to tinker with it.

A spokesman for the Department of Health denied yesterday that any major overhaul of the surrogacy law was planned. "A lot of people know that ministers have promised to look at the existing law to see if it needs change and are thrusting their agendas on them," he said.

Leading article, page 17

Paul Vallely, page 19

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