Children ‘entitled’ to know genetic parents

Children should be given the right to full knowledge of their genetic parents in a move that would outlaw anonymous sperm donation and is to be recommended by the Oireachtas Justice Committee today.

It suggests a dual birth certificate system which would contain details of both the “social parents” and the genetic lineage of a child.

The recommendation is contained in the cross-party report — one of three to be formally launched by the committee today.

It follows from its hearings in April on the Family Relationships Bill — which is due to be passed in the Dáil later this year and deals with a range of issues including same-sex adoption and surrogacy.

Under current law, only married couples or individuals can adopt a child. The draft heads of the bill propose that same-sex couples who enter civil partnerships should be allowed to adopt.

The bill aims to deal with the question of parenting rights for gay couples ahead of a referendum on marriage equality planned for next spring.

The Justice Committee Report recommends that this provision be extended to allow same sex couples who are married, or have adopted abroad, have their parenting rights recognised in Ireland.

Under the proposed laws as they are currently drafted, such couples would not have their parentage recognised here because they are not in an Irish civil partnerships.

The report is based on 32 submissions from stakeholders including equality campaigners, children’s rights groups and family lawyers, as well as hearings from these parties in April.

It recommends that the bill be altered to:

- Give stronger rights for children to identify their genetic parents;

- Allow “posthumous conception” or the eggs or sperm of a deceased person to be used in limited circumstances;

- Drop proposed jail penalties for parents who breach the proposed ban on surrogacy for commercial reasons;

- Change the period of time before legal parentage can be transferred from surrogate parents to commissioning parents;

- Provide more clarity on how the views of children can be heard in legal proceedings on guardianship, custody or access right.

On the issue of a child’s right to know their genetic parents, the committee notes that this is not contained in the proposed bill and several organisations, including Barnardos, the Children’s Rights Alliance and the ISPCC have been critical of this.

Experts have said this is important for a child’s sense of identity, as well as their right to access medical information.

It says countries that have prohibited anonymous donation and established systems to assist donor-conceived people to identify genetic parents include: England, Wales, Finland, Sweden, Switzerland and some Australian states.

The report also says that the period of six months to assign parentage from a surrogate parent to the intended parent of a child may be too long.

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