Sunday, November 22, 2015

Welcome to the Wild West: Cambodian surrogacy

Today I came across a story from the Sydney Morning Herald about surrogacy in Cambodia.
I had heard some time ago that following the Baby Gammy saga, Thai clinics were moving to Cambodia.

Australia, according to Transparency International, is the 11th cleanest country for corruption. The US is number 17, and Cambodia is number 156, out of a possible 175.

In Asia, those previous places of surrogacy, India, Nepal and Thailand are rated as a lot less corrupt. In fact, the only places worse in Asia for corruption are Myanmar, Afghanistan and North Korea.

The infant mortality rate in Cambodia is over 10 times worse than Australia: about 42.1 per 100,000 live births. In Australia it is 4 per 100,000.

Anyone who goes to the Wild West, Cambodia, for surrogacy, is asking for trouble. Quite simply, they shouldn't.

Avoidable Mexican surrogacy disaster

I hate surprises. When it comes to surrogacy (or other court cases for that matter) I very much believe in prevention is better than cure. I would rather clients tell me what the dramas are, in a candid manner, so that they can be planned and accounted for, rather than trying to fix up a mess.

When it comes to surrogacy, I like to plan the process at the beginning, using people I like and trust, who can assist my clients all the way through. For domestic surrogacy arrangements, this may be other lawyers, financial planners, counsellors and IVF doctors. I just want it to go right first time, or at least have the greatest chance of going right first time. And if it doesn't go right first time, to do what needs to be done to fix it- easily, quickly, and as cheaply as possible.

Any surrogacy journey can have dramas, which most of the time will be medical, but can be regulatory. For those going to developing countries, it is very much a case of buyer beware. Going overseas for surrogacy, with IVF and using an overseas surrogate, and often an egg donor, is one of the most complex ways of becoming a parent, and things can go badly wrong.

Doing surrogacy at home can be a truly beautiful experience, despite the hurdles, as seen here and here

Those contemplating going overseas ought to rethink about whether they can do so back home. For some people, such as singles, gay and lesbian couples living in South Australia, or single men and gay couples in Western Australia, at first glance they have little choice but to go overseas. However, it may be possible for them to undertake surrogacy in Queensland or New South Wales. The delay may be no greater than an overseas trip, risk is down and cost may be especially down. Domestic surrogacy arrangements can be as cheap as $25,000 to $60,000, which is usually a lot cheaper than anywhere overseas.

A good illustration of things going wrong is this terrible tale of an Australian couple going to Mexico in today's Sydney Morning Herald:

 "The list of problems included the destruction of our embryo by the clinic through an error in the freezing process and the mixing up of paperwork on transfer of embryos between clinics. We weren't even sure the embryos transferred in to the surrogate were ours for a period of time.
"In some ways we are glad this devastating experience is over, for us and also for the surrogate mother who didn't fall pregnant."
One laboratory report stated that the "technique used is terrible". The couple said that while the two clinics argue who is the least incompetent, they are heartbroken at seeing the photos of the destroyed embryo.
Mr Yii added: "We where given assurance by our Australian lawyer who did due diligence on a number of clinics that the one we were to use was 'the most professional and ethical clinic with the most experience in Mexico'. Clearly the best in Mexico has failed."

I was not the lawyer who advised this couple. 

Appearing in four States for surrogacy

Last Friday when I appeared in the Supreme Court of New South Wales in Sydney for Claudia and Sonny Luca to obtain a surrogacy parentage order, it was the fourth State in which I have appeared for clients to obtain a surrogacy parentage order.

Although I and my associate Karen Gough have obtained surrogacy parentage orders in New South Wales in the past, this was the first time I had gone to court there. The reason is that in NSW surrogacy parentage orders are normally made in chambers. That means the documents are forwarded to the court. A judge then looks at the documents in his or her office, called chambers, and the orders are then made. The reason this time was different was because, for the first time the Supreme Court gave us a choice. I was told that we could have the orders made in chambers or we could have an appearance. Choosing the latter would also speed up the process.

By having a court appearance would mean that my clients would come face to face with the justice system- with a judge beaming down, approving of them as parents. It is truly a beautiful process. Judges have told me that making surrogacy parentage orders is the highlight of their weak, because it is joyful, unlike most of the rest of their work.

So it was a no brainer! We were going to court.

I have previously appeared in courts in Queensland, Victoria and South Australia. I have obtained surrogacy parentage orders in all four States. I have not blogged pictures of most, because laws generally prohibit publication- in order to protect the privacy of all concerned, especially the child. In this case the judge ordered that cameras could be taken into the court room, and Claudia, Sonny, Antonietta and Joe all consented to their details and that of Luciano being published.

I have acted in surrogacy matters for clients from all eight States and Territories and, at last count, 19 overseas countries:
  • USA
  • UK
  • Ireland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Belgium
  • Netherlands
  • Switzerland
  • Denmark
  • Japan
  • China
  • Hong Kong
  • Malaysia 
  • Singapore
  • Indonesia
  • Philippines
  • Papua New Guinea
  • New Caledonia
  • New Zealand

Helping Claudia and Sonny become parents to Luciano

On Friday I had the joy of representing a couple, Claudia and Sonny, in the NSW Supreme Court, so that they could achieve recognition as parents.

Claudia has a rare medical condition that she was born without a uterus. She knew all along that she would never achieve the joy of being a mum. Trips to the doctors confirmed it, and she was in despair that there were no options to become a mum.

Not a quitter, Claudia went online and found out about surrogacy. Claudia's mum, Antonietta offered to be Claudia's surrogate. Claudia and Sonny came to a seminar about surrogacy that I spoke at in Sydney almost 3 years ago.

They looked at undertaking surrogacy overseas and decided instead to do surrogacy at home. I said to them at the time that surrogacy was a when not if idea- a certainty when they would become a mum and dad, not a maybe.

As sometimes happens, there were a few medical bumps on the way, but back in June, Antonietta gave birth to Luciano. As the pictures show, he is a much loved prize. A wonderful bouncing boy!

On Friday, I was such a lucky man to be there when Justice Lindsay in the Supreme Court made a surrogacy parentage order, transferring parentage from Antonietta and Claudia's dad, Joe, to Claudia and Sonny.

Smiles all around.

Claudia, Sonny, Joe, Antonietta and Luciano have had their story told in Woman's Day and 60 Minutes. Only now, though, are Claudia and Sonny recognised as Luciano's parents. My role is to make it all happen- to reality test the plans, and then put the plan into action, so that my clients will not only have the joy of a baby, but also be recognised as the parents.

I have acted in several cases before for intended parents whose mum was the surrogate. A wonderful, wonderful tale. :)
(L to R) All smiles! Claudia, Sonny, Luciano, Joe and Antonietta
(L to R) Justice Lindsay's associate, Sonny, Luciano, Claudia, Justice Lindsay proudly holding the court order, Antonietta and Joe.

First Townsville surrogacy

I love helping people achieve their dreams and become parents. Just over two years I posted about why I love my job.

Having experienced infertility problems myself, I know the pain of infertility. The inevitable questioning. The eating away of the soul as if my acid. The self-doubting and self-loathing.

Too often I have heard from women who have gone to their fertility doctors to be told: you can't do anything; it's all over.

The reality is that sometimes egg donation can be used, or surrogacy. Surrogacy is the option of last resort, or for gay couples as an American colleague recently put it, it is the option of first resort.

Surrogacy of course has two aims: to have a baby, and to have the parents legally recognised.

A week ago I was honoured to represent a couple who had the joy of a baby girl through surrogacy. The couple, from Townsville, had to jump a series of hurdles to get there in the end. I told them at the beginning that surrogacy was a WHEN not if  proposition- when they would become parents. At each hurdle, I said not to give up in despair, but to keep on trying. They will get there. And they did!

To have appeared in court to help intended parents achieve legal recognition of their parentage is a joy, that continued from the first time we talked, when I said that they would get there.

I am a very lucky man. :)

Outside Brisbane Childrens Court. The order had been made: they are now officially mum and dad!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Our child protection system needs overhauling: Sammutt

I am at a seminar in Brisbane with Dr Jeremy Sammutt who convincingly argues that due to ideology we are failing children- because the number of children in care Australia wide has doubled to 43,000, but only 100 were adopted. 

Instead the kids in care are often in multiple placements, without stability. 

Why adoption is automatically rejected as an option seems madness. Great work!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Breaking the adoption taboo in Australia

Tonight in Melbourne, and in coming days in Adelaide and Brisbane, there will be a free seminar about breaking the adoption taboo in Australia, by author Dr Jeremy Sammutt and other speakers.

Why are children in dysfunctional families abused and neglected despite being reported many times to child protection authorities? Why are children further damaged by being cycled in and out of unstable foster care? Why are there so few adoptions in Australia despite the thousands of children in long-term care?

Adoption has been internationally proven as the best way to provide a safe, stable and loving family life for children who are unable to live with their biological parents. However, in relation to comparable countries, Australia has very low rates of adoption.

To coincide with National Adoption Awareness Week, this special event will examine the issues raised by Centre for Independent Studies Research Fellow Dr Jeremy Sammut’s new book, The Madness of Australian Child Protection: Why Adoption Will Rescue Australia’s Underclass Children (Connor Court).

I will be attending the Brisbane event.

 Chloe Valentine

This is what Dr Sammutt said earlier this year to the ABC following an inquest into the death of toddler Chloe Valentine in South Australia:

"Family preservation is an ideology, it's based on the idea that you can fix often unfixable families, families with high levels of dysfunction, high levels of personal problems, particularly drug and alcohol abuse," he said.
"The reality is that some families can't be fixed."
Dr Sammut said agencies resisted using adoption as an intervention.
"There is an anti-adoption culture within child protection departments. They simply refuse to take legal action to free children for adoption," he said.

He believed a stigma around forced adoption policies in Australia had contributed to such reluctance.
"It's partly due to the legacy of the Stolen Generations. It's partly due to the legacy of forced adoption but what we've got to recognise is we're talking about saving children from lives of dysfunction because the present system replicates and perpetuates intergenerational disadvantage," he said.
"It's made people reluctant to endorse adoption because they are concerned about replicating the errors of the past.
"That's a legitimate concern but we've got to understand that what we're doing today to try to avoid the errors of the past actually has a negative impact on children."