Liberal MP wants payments to surrogates, sperm and egg donors decriminalized
OTTAWA – Liberal MPs and fertility advocates were on Parliament Hill Tuesday calling for the decriminalization of Canadian parents who pay for surrogates, sperm or egg donations.
"People who want to just love a child shouldn’t be told you may have to go to prison for up to 10 years if you offer to pay someone to help you do that," said Liberal MP Anthony Housefather, who is planning on bringing forward a private member’s bill by May to address this.
The federal reproduction act states that no person can pay or offer to compensate a surrogate or sperm or egg donor.
Currently, an intended parent can face up to 10 years in prison and fines of up to $500,000 if found guilty of violating the law under this section.
In Canada, prospective parents are able to pay medical costs and other costs directly related to the pregnancy, but the advocates argue that anything above that, from gifting a bouquet of flowers to a cash payment, is against the law.
Since the law came into force in 2004, following a Royal Commission on Reproductive Technologies, there has been just one prosecution under this provision. Housefather said that raises the question of why the law exists if it’s not being actively enforced.
"The concern is that there's always that possibility… that the Crown may levy a charge," he said.
Housefather said that from what he's heard from experts in the field, there is "essentially complete unanimity" that the rules should change to stop the flow of Canadian couples going south to the United States, or elsewhere, when looking to start a family.
Liberal MPs Anita Vandenbeld, Julie Dzerowicz, Nick Whalen, and Francesco Sorbara joined Housefather at the press conference.
They fielded questions on why these forms of payment for donations should be decriminalized and not organ donations, as well as questions over the prospect of paying for reproductive assistance lending to the commodification of women’s bodies.
"I think we need to be clear here that assisted human reproduction is the one area in law where we are still criminalizing women’s bodies and this has to change," said Vandenbeld, who is also the chair of the Liberal women’s caucus.
Dzerowicz said it is "embarrassing" that Canada is behind the United States and some other countries around the world that allow for surrogates and donors to be compensated.
"We're a progressive country, we do believe in having different kinds of families and I think we need to have our laws catch up."
She advocated for a made-in-Canada model that is affordable for all Canadians.
The fertility experts standing alongside the MPs argued that societally, a lot has changed since the law was put in place.
"Intended parents should not live in fear that by recognizing the tremendous gift that their surrogates and donors are giving them, could lead to criminal prosecution. The law must change and evolve to support the Canadians that are using this process to build their families," said Alex McNab, a lawyer and gay man who is an intended parent through surrogacy.
"Decriminalization must happen to make it easier, safer, and healthier for all people who are involved in this method of family making and to keep them here at home," said Cindy Wasser, lawyer and mother of two girls with the help of a donor and surrogates.
Stephanie Aubry, a surrogate who is seven months pregnant said that the parents of the child she is caring shouldn't be worried about having "targets on their backs."
"The only thing they should be worrying about is which car seat and which stroller they want to buy. This belly is beautiful, it is not criminal," she said.
Housefather said he is currently working with constitutional lawyers across Canada to draft the bill.
While it could be some time before Housefather’s turn comes up to advance a private members’ bill, he said he may hand this bill off to a colleague that could advance it sooner.
He said he's hopeful for all-party support but is particularly optimistic about getting the backing of his Cabinet colleagues.
"I think many members of Cabinet are friends, and family members with people who are either infertile couples, who are gay or lesbian, who are single-parent, people who want to be parents, and have had personal experiences that will open their minds to this law. I think it’s very much in line… with the feminist agenda of this government," Housefather said.