Tighter laws planned on surrogate mothers

Capping of expenses paid to mothers likely in experts' review of legislation
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Expenses paid to surrogate mothers could be capped following an independent review of surrogacy law announced by the Government yesterday.

The health minister Tessa Jowell said that a team of three experts will investigate whether a body should be set up to regulate the arrangements made by childless couples with women who agree to bear their children.

Ms Jowell's move follows outrage over the recent case of Karen Roche, who was thought to have received about pounds 12,000 from a Dutch couple to carry their child. She claimed she had an abortion because she did not think the couple were suitable parents but finally admitted she was keeping the baby.

At the time Ruth Deech, chairman of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority said it could be time to look again at the 1985 Act to define more closely what were legitimate expenses.

As the law stands in Britain surrogacy must not be commercialised and a surrogate mother cannot be forced to give up her baby if she changes her minds.

Parents are allowed to pay surrogate mothers or give them expenses but it is illegal for a third party to profit from a surrogacy arrangement. Commercial surrogacy was banned in Britain after Kim Cotton, Britain's first surrogate mother to go public, was paid pounds 6,500 in 1985 to have a baby.

While there have been many successes - such as Anne Keep who carried triplets for Julie and Anthony Cohn - other cases which have caused unease include a grandmother, Edith Jones, carrying a baby for her own daughter and abroad there was outrage when an Italian woman was reported to be carrying two babies by two different couples at the same time.

Mrs Cotton, 40, who now chairs the group Childlessness Overcome Through Surrogacy (Cots), said it was time for better regulation. "We have done our best, but it is getting too big for us. We need to have better screening and vetting of the people involved."

It was Mrs Cotton's group which organised the surrogacy arrangement for Mrs Roche and Mrs Cotton was concerned at how the situation had developed after the initial Cots involvement. "We welcome the Government setting up a panel to review legislation," she said last night.

In a written answer to John Healy, MP for Wentworth, Ms Jowell said: "It is important that in an area as sensitive as surrogacy the law is kept under review.

"However, since this issue was last examined, the number of difficult cases which have attracted public attention has increased, although because so many arrangements are entirely private it is always difficult to make any assessment of the numbers of cases."

The team - Margaret Brazier, Professor of Law at Manchester University, Susan Golombok, Professor of Psychology at the City University, London; and Alastair Campbell, Professor of Ethics in Medicine, University of Bristol - will consider whether payments, including expenses, to surrogate mothers should continue to be allowed. It will also examine whether there is a case for the regulation of surrogacy arrangements through a recognised body or bodies; and if so to advise on the scope and operation of such arrangements.

The HFEA and the British Medical Association both welcomed the move. Dr Vivienne Nathanson, head of ethics for the BMA, said: "Cases in the news recently have shown that their can be problems and there needs to be monitoring of the agencies concerned in surrogacy. We think the child's needs must be paramount."

She called for research into the long-term emotional effects on the children and the mothers who give them up.