Non-commercial surrogacy has now become legal in the state of Queensland in Australia. The state's parliament last night passed relevant laws on the issue. Thus it would not be illegal for anyone to engage a woman to bear a child - but no payment should be involved in the process.
Under the reforms, legal parentage of a child born in an altruistic surrogacy arrangement will transfer from the birth mother to the parent or parents who commissioned the birth.
AdvertisementThe Clinical Director of the Queensland Fertility Group, Doctor David Molloy, says it is a vital method of conceiving for some of his patients.
He says demand will drop off after an initial spike.
"I suspect as the demand for surrogacy evens out, it'll probably only be perhaps 30 or 40 couples a year," he said.
"Initially there's going to be a lot more than that because of the fact that there's been a backlog."
The new laws include surrogacy for same-sex couples and single people.
Dr Molloy say few same-sex couples will use the laws.
"Most same sex relationships actually use safe access to donor sperm as their primary method of getting pregnant," he said.
"Usually two females is way and above the most common form of relationship where that happens.
"In general terms these groups have no problems getting pregnant."
Gay and lesbian lobby group Action Reform Change Queensland says there are already many children across the state with same-sex parents.
Spokeswoman Louise du Chesne says the new laws mean those families are finally recognised and validated.
"It means those children can now go to the Registry Office and have two parents acknowledged on their birth certificates," she said.
Queensland Law Society says although commercial payment for such an arrangement is illegal it would be difficult to prevent under-the-table payments or gifts to the surrogate mother.
"Clearly that sort of thing would be difficult to monitor," Queensland Law Society president Peter Eardley said.
However, lawyers were not concerned the loophole would lead to a stream of criminal cases against new parents.
"I think the usual complaints about these matters (are when) someone is promised to be paid and then they're not paid," Mr Eardley said.
"Surrogacy [under Queensland law] is not going to be a commercial venture so I don't see that as being a major concern.
"I imagine this legislation will be with willing volunteers and not have a commercial aspect to it.
"It's designed to stop commercial exploitation of people and prevent selling the service."
Attorney-General Cameron Dick told ABC Radio this morning surrogate mothers would be entitled to recover "reasonable birth costs" from the intending parent, and were also entitled not to relinquish the baby.
He said surrogacy would remain a rare event in Queensland and it would be months before the state would see its first legal case.
The Register of Births, Deaths and Marriages would need three months to have the process ready and parents would have to pass a number of criteria, including seeking legal advice and counselling, Mr Dick said.
Queensland is the last Australian state to overturn legislation criminalising altruistic surrogacy, which was punishable by jail.
Family and Christian groups were quick to slam the law.
Family First Senate candidate for Queensland Wendy Francis predicted the "evil" law would result in another "Sorry Day" being needed for children born to surrogates.
"(Premier) Anna Bligh has destroyed the lives of a future stolen generation and has mocked those who are appalled and distressed at the passing of these laws which can only be described as evil," Ms Francis said in a statement.