State overhauls baby laws

December 15, 2007


VICTORIA is to make surrogacy available to infertile couples and ease restrictions on access to fertility treatment for lesbians and single women.

The proposed new laws one of the state's most significant changes to social and health policy were announced yesterday by Deputy Premier and Attorney-General Rob Hulls.

They will effectively end the practice of infertile couples travelling to more permissive states to have babies with the help of IVF, donor insemination and surrogacy.

The laws, expected to be introduced in Parliament in the first half of next year, will also provide legal recognition to the parents of children born through assisted reproductive technology. But the question of whether gay couples and single people can adopt children remains unresolved.

The changes come several months after the Victorian Law Reform Commission recommended sweeping changes to fertility regulations. They also follow stories published in The Age highlighting how legal barriers are affecting families.

The Government will adopt most of the commission's recommendations.

"The fact that a child is wanted, is loved and is well cared for in the Government's view is far more important than the way in which that child was conceived," Mr Hulls said.

"These changes, when implemented, will bring us into line with other states, will remove anomalies in the law and will ensure that children born as a result of assisted reproductive technology or surrogacy don't have inferior legal protection compared with other children."

The debate was triggered in 2000 when a single woman, Leesa Meldrum, and her doctor, John McBain, won a court battle for the right for infertile single women and lesbians to use IVF. The Federal Court found that Victoria's laws were inconsistent with the Federal Sex Discrimination Act. But lesbians and single women who were not clinically infertile were still banned.

Ms Meldrum was emotional when told of the changes yesterday. "I just can't believe it, to be honest," she said. "I think it's a shame that there's probably a lot of women in my position that had to fight, had to go through it, and now at least it's been recognised so there'll be a lot of babies born without the hassle of having to be discriminated against because you're single or a lesbian."

Surrogacy in Victoria is currently technically legal but virtually impossible because the law says the woman who acts as a surrogate must be clinically infertile. The changes will remove that requirement and make access to surrogacy easier.