Parenthood of IVF babies: Bill to plug loopholes

SINGAPORE - As more babies here are born using assisted methods like invitro fertilisation (IVF), the law will try to provide more clarity on the parenthood of such children.

A Bill was tabled in Parliament on Monday, aiming to plug loopholes which may leave a child legally parentless.

The Status of Children (Assisted Reproduction Technology) Bill also covers instances where a mix-up happens, such as the 2010 case in which Thomson Fertility Clinic used the wrong sperm.

Then, a couple discovered that their baby had the Chinese Singaporean mother's DNA, but not her Caucasian husband's.

If the Bill is passed, most children will have a single set of parents, even if they are the result of mistakes.

Generally, the woman who gave birth to the child will be treated as the legal mother. But fatherhood has been contentious.

Here, the Bill provides for three main scenarios.

The woman's husband is the legal father. If unmarried, her long-term partner can apply to the court to be the father.

If donated sperm is used, the husband or partner can still be regarded as the father if he had consented to the IVF treatment, or accepts the child as his own.

Sperm donor has no claim to the child, unless he later marries the woman or becomes her partner.

But if the wrong egg or sperm is used, the birth mother and her husband will be the default parents - as if the mistake did not happen. This is so that the child is not left legally parentless.

However, the person whose egg or sperm was used by mistake can apply to the court for parental rights within two years of the mistake being discovered.

Currently, the law places such children on the same footing as those who are conceived normally, said the Ministry of Law.

And where the wrong egg or sperm is used, the legal parenthood of the child is uncertain.

A public consultation that was held last November found that most people support the Bill, which comes as more babies are born using IVF, from 720 in 2006 to 1,267 in 2011.

The proposed law does not seek to regulate IVF treatment in Singapore, which is performed in 11 clinics here and is overseen by the Health Ministry.

Under existing regulations, only married couples are allowed to undergo IVF.

Professor P.C. Wong, who heads the division of reproductive endocrinology and infertility at the National University Hospital, said that the new rules will be particularly useful if the status of a couple's relationship becomes unclear. For instance, those who get a divorce after the woman becomes pregnant, he said. Here, the Bill will clarify that the former husband still has parental rights over the child.

Said Dr Yu Su Ling of Singapore General Hospital: "The recent IVF mix-up is a stark example of a child who may have ended up being an orphan without the protection of this law."

Lawyer Kuah Boon Theng welcomed the Bill, as legislation in this area is "long overdue".

"Our laws have to catch up with technology," she said, adding that the Bill will also ensure that children who are conceived with donor sperm are less vulnerable to paternity challenges.

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