Labor Senator in surrogate controversy

Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart says the Church will not discipline Victorian Senator Peter Conroy, a practising Catholic, for having a daughter using a surrogate mother and a separate egg donor even though the practice is against Catholic teaching.

Senator Conroy said on Monday that his wife could not conceive after having ovarian cancer. They considered adopting a child, but the process for a cancer survivor was more difficult than for others, The Age reports.

They opted for a surrogate mother, using a donated egg from another friend because they thought it would be easier for the surrogate if the child were not her own.

Archbishop Denis Hart sympathised with Senator Conroy's "heart-rending" story, but said surrogate motherhood was against Catholic teaching.

Archbishop Hart said the Church held that a child should result from a natural act of love between a married couple. "Surrogacy isn't even on our radar."

He said the Church had to put forward a "very high ideal", but was also compassionate about the anguish people suffer. "The Conroy story is particularly heart-rending."

Archbishop Hart said the church would not discipline Senator Conroy by denying him the sacraments. "Anything like that has to be public, notorious and scandalous. I don't think we'd seek to publicly embarrass people at a very difficult time. We can't judge the final motives of the individuals and the pressures they are under in making their decision."

He said one couple in 11 could not have children, which was a great sadness but not unique to 2006.

In Sydney, Cardinal George Pell has warned that surrogate parenthood is "far from ideal", adding that he hoped Senator Stephen Conroy's situation did not "unravel" at the child's expense.

"Already overseas, there have been nasty lawsuits in similar situations," he said.

Cardinal Pell said the birth of a child always brought joy to parents and he wished all involved well, but children had rights to a mother and a father.

Also responding to the news, Bioethicist Dr Norman Ford said a child should result from the natural marital act, and to the extent that technology veered from that, the church opposed it. He said surrogacy was rife in the US, where it was heavily commercialised and often harmful for the children.

"Experience in America shows it has all gone awry. People break up and there are arguments about the child, or especially when the birth mother wants to keep it. Courts always favour the gestation mother."

A legal minefield

In another illustration of the legal minefield involved, the Victorian Law Reform Commission yesterday indicated that the couple have no rights to the baby, even though the Labor senator provided the sperm used to conceive the child, the Australian reports.

Any arrangement with the surrogate mother has no legal validity in Victoria and Senator Conroy is not considered the father. Victorian law states: "The surrogate mother and her partner, if any, are the child's parents, regardless of any agreement or arrangement between the parties.

"The commissioning couple are not the parents of the child even if sperm and/or eggs have been provided by the commissioning couple.

"The Infertility Treatment Act makes all surrogacy agreements void."

The surrogate parents cannot transfer guardianship of the child to the "commissioning couple", nor can they permanently surrender the right to care for the child.

Senator Conroy and his wife can apply for a parenting order from the Family Court of Australia that would give them legal rights and responsibilities over the girl until she turns 18.

However, the surrogate mother would still be considered the mother.

The baby can be adopted in Victoria only if the surrogate mother is related to Ms Benson. The couple has not revealed the identity of the egg donor or the surrogate - describing them only as close friends.

Cardinal fears for Conroy baby's future (The Age, 9/11/06)
Conroy clan may have to flee law (The Australian, 9/11/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Senator Peter Conroy website

Vicar General concerned about gays importing surrogate babies (CathNews, 18/8/03)

9 Nov 2006