Coming 21 June, Dr. Petra De Sutter, a Belgian senator and gynaecologist specialising in surrogacy and Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART), will try again to get the Committee on Social Affairs of the Assembly of the Council of Europe to accept surrogacy, despite the rejection of her previous report in March and her alleged conflict of interest.

The ECLJ* condemns a move that flouts the values of the Council of Europe, by both its content and elaboration procedure.

On 28 January 2015, the Assembly of the Council of Europe appointed Dr. Petra De Sutter to draft a report and resolution on “Human Rights and Ethical Issues Related to Surrogacy”.

Although the majority of the members of the Committee responsible for the report fortunately voted, on the 15 March in Paris, against the first draft report written in favour of surrogacy, the rapporteur will try again on the 21 June to get their seal of approval. It is obviously not going to be the same text, but the objective is the same: to make the Committee accept Surrogacy.

The draft report will, in all likelihood, strongly condemn commercial surrogacy to better advance the argument of the so-called “altruistic surrogacy” that doesn’t exist. As hypocritical as it may be, it will allude to the protection of the rights of children to, in reality, better guarantee the rights of adults over the children born through surrogacy.

The Rapporteur, who specialises in surrogacy and Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) in a Hospital in Gent and who works with a commercial surrogacy company in India (Seeds of Innocence) has every interest in getting surrogacy approved. Regarding the accusation of conflict of interest levelled against her, the Committee on Social Affairs could have resolved the problem by secret vote as prescribed by the Rules of Procedure. However, on 27 January 2016, the Members of the Assembly were invited to vote, not on the conflict but rather to decide on whether the conflict should be put to vote! Thanks to this trick, the Members of the Assembly were made to vote by show of hands and it was decided, by a narrow majority, that the issue of the conflict of interest should not be examined. Consequently, the problem remains open and unresolved!

After the vote of 15 March, which rejected the De Sutter report, several members of the assembly requested that the process should be abandoned or entrusted to another Rapporteur. Thus, credibility of the Council of Europe and serenity of debates on such a sensitive subject were at stake. This request was rejected. There is a considerable amount of pressure within the institution to adopt a text in favour of surrogacy.

This can be seen in the way the activities of the parliament, whose confidentiality had been strengthened, are conducted. The last straw for an authority who is supposed to be a model of transparency and of “inclusive democracy”: the draft project and resolution are confidential, discussions are held behind closed doors, people against surrogacy are not deposed, and reports of sessions are laconic. For instance, on 21 April, the Secretary General of the Assembly addressed the Committee on Social Affairs concerning “a point on a procedure” and held “an exchange of views” apparently about De Sutter’s report – something very rare. This is all the official minutes reported. Don’t try to get more information, it is strictly confidential…

Positive Point: The accumulation of problems surrounding this report seemed to have convinced the President of the Assembly to bring the matter before the Committee on Rules of Procedure, responsible for implementing the ethics and ensuring that the Rules of Procedure are complied with. But even relating to this, don’t pry, it is strictly confidential…

Why is the fight to get surrogacy accepted going on within the Council of Europe when the Council, whose aim is to promote human rights, should be at the forefront of the fight against this form of human exploitation?

One of the reasons is political expediency: the majority of the members of the Committee of Social Affairs the “progressist”. A more delicate reason concerns the makeup of the Assembly: a section of the Members are from countries where the surrogacy industry is booming (Romania, Ukraine, Russia, Bulgaria, etc.) as well as countries that are not models of democracy. Romania, for example, is riddled with corruption. Many members of the assembly from these countries claim they do not think surrogacy creates any problems, on the contrary…

In contrast, the European Parliament in Brussels, has taken a clear stance by strongly condemning any form of surrogacy, stating that it goes against the rights of the women and human dignity. By a vote on 17 December 2015, the European Parliament “condemns the practice of surrogacy, which undermines the human dignity of the woman since her body and its reproductive functions are used as a commodity; considers that the practice of gestational surrogacy which involves reproductive exploitation and use of the human body for financial or other gain, in particular in the case of vulnerable women in developing countries, shall be prohibited and treated as a matter of urgency in human rights instruments”.

Hopefully the Assembly of the Council of Europe will ensure that the values ​​for which the Council has been established prevail over this new form of degradation and servitude.
* ECLJ has partnered the No Maternity Traffic Initiative.
Article published in French in the FigaroVox (16 June 2016) :

Translation by ECLJ