Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The whirlwind surrogacy trip: getting hitched in Vegas

Tomorrow I travel to the US. It is a whirlwind trip of just over a week.

First stop:  San Francisco

On Friday I am part of a panel presenting a continuing legal education session for the Bar Association of San Francisco about surrogacy. I will be talking about international surrogacy. The other presenters are noted local attorney Deborah Wald (who will present about local surrogacy issues) , local fertility doctor Dr Isabelle Ryan, and local fertility counsellor Peggy Orlin. The chair of the session is Dennis Hanshew from San Francisco. It should be a great session!

Second stop: Chicago

Straight after San Francisco I will be in Chicago for several days attending the assisted reproductive treatment law conference of the American Academy of Assisted Reproductive Treatment Attorneys or AAARTA. I am  the first international Fellow of AAARTA outside the US or Canada. This will be the first AAARTA conference that I have attended and will present at since I presented at the AAARTA ART conference in Charleston in 2013.

I will be part of a panel that is talking about international issues, along with Louisa Ghavaert from England and Mandy Pecher from Germany. The chair of the session is Margaret Swain. I will be talking about an overview of surrogacy in Australia, especially how it has changed since Baby Gammy.

Last stop: Getting married in Vegas

After Chicago, the intention was to visit  my friends, Dr Bruce Shapiro and Dr Said Daneshmand at the Fertility Center of Las Vegas on the way home. And then a couple of weeks ago, things changed.

My fiance Mitchell and I were waiting to see what happened in Canberra before we got married. We were planning to go to NZ to get married, if the politicians failed to enact equal marriage laws. Well  they did fail. We then had a choice- wait for it, or have our trip to NZ.

We had thought of getting married in the US. Some months ago a colleague Dianne Hinson, a surrogacy lawyer form Maryland, suggested that we get married in the US. This was an idea that we were toying with, but rejected.

And then a couple of weeks ago, Mitch said to me: " Darling, why don't we get married in Vegas? We are going to be there anyway." So we are getting married in Vegas. And for everyone who asks- no it won't be Elvis officiating!

I am delighted that my good friend Dr Daneshmand will be my best man and that Shiva from the Fertility Center of Las Vegas will be the maid of honour. 

We are blessed that at short notice some of our American friends are able to attend the wedding. 

And then comes the bittersweet moment: we come home- to have our marriage not recognised here.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Heartwarming surrogacy story on 60 Minutes this Sunday night

I learnt the news a couple of days ago that clients of mine will feature on 60 Minutes on Sunday night.

The story will be about Claudia and Sonny Luca who were unable to have a baby, until Claudia's mum, Antonietta came along and said that she would be the surrogate. Claudia, Sonny, Antonietta and Claudia's dad Joe all feature as does the beautiful bouncing son and grandson Luciano.

It's not the first mother/daughter surrogacy I've helped along the way, and I'm sure it won't be the last, but it is a very touching and heartwarming story, with tears along the way, until joy!

It has been a privilege, as always, to help Claudia and Sonny achieve their dream to become parents and have a family.

Ironically, I will miss the story (aat least live) because when it is being broadcast I will be travelling back to Brisbane from Perth, after speaking about surrogacy to the Family Law Practitioners Association of Western Australia.

What an amazing month for a fertility lawyer!

I have sat back and reflected about the next month, which is an extraordinary period for presentations by me. As always, I am honoured to be asked to present. Hopefully I am able to add value to each event.

Number 1: Western Australia

Tonight I fly to Perth. Tomorrow I drive to Dunsborough, a couple of hours south of Perth, where on Saturday morning I take part in a panel discussion about surrogacy for the Family Law Practitioners Association of Western Australia annual conference.

Dunsborough is about as far away as anyone could get in Australia from Brisbane. A 5 1/4  hour flight tonight, followed by a three hour drive tomorrow. I will be going from the northeast of Australia to the far south west.

To put this into context, New Caledonia is closer (2 hours), as is Vanuatu (the same), Fiji (3 hours) and New Zealand (3 1/2 hours). The time to get to Dunsborough is less time than to Singapore (7 hours) and similar to Hong Kong (9 hours). The flight time from Los Angeles to New York, by comparison, is 4 3/4 hours.

I am in esteemed company in my panel. The other panellists are Chief Justice Diana Bryant of the Family Court of Australia and Justice Jane Crisford of the Family Court of Western Australia. The panel is moderated by WA barrister and fellow surrogacy lawyer Rachel Oakeley.

Yesterday came the bittersweet news from conference organisors- stop asking for availability, because the conference is full. Hopefully there will be a good turn up.

I fly back from that conference on Sunday, arriving late on Sunday night.

Number 2: Canberra

On Monday night I fly to Canberra, where on Tuesday I will address a session of the annual conference of the Fertility Society of Australia. I will be speaking about post-Baby Gammy regulation of surrogacy.

I fly back to Brisbane on Tuesday night. The conference goes for three days, but unfortunately I can only be there for the day.

I have been honoured to speak at the conference, or side conference in 2011 (Melbourne) , 2013 (Sydney), 2014 (Brisbane)  and now 2015. 

Number 3: Back in Brisbane

On Wednesday night after work I am again volunteering at the LGBTI Legal Service in Brisbane. OK, it's not a presentation, but I thought it worthwhile to mention.

I volunteer my time once a month to give legal advice to others. Recently I was presented with the Rainbow Keys award by the LGBTI Legal Service for volunteering there for 5 years. I have volunteered there since opening night in 2010. Where did that time go?

The service is an unfunded legal  service filling a vital niche. I figured it needs all the help it can get. The least I can do is to lend it some of my time, and help others.

Number 4: Queensland webinar

On Thursday, today week, I present a webinar to the Queensland Family Law Pathways Network about ART and family law. I explore surrogacy law and who is a parent at law. I understand, being a webinar, that there are still places available.

I was a bit embarrassed when the Queensland Family Law Pathways Network in its promotional blurb called me "internationally renowned". While that is true, it is not something I would have written about myself.

I was asked yesterday to present at a Queer Careers night that night at the University of Queensland. Much as I would have liked to attend and speak, it just simply would have been too much, in light of everything else.

Number 5: San Francisco

On 2 October I am presenting  at a legal seminar about surrogacy for  the San Francisco Bar Association. I will be co-presenting with local surrogacy guru Deb Wald. Deb will be speaking about local surrogacy laws. I will be talking about the international context of surrogacy. There will be two others presenters- a local IVF doctor and a local fertility counsellor. Hopefully it will be a good rollup.

Number 6: Chicago

On 4 to 6 October I will be attending the ART conference of the American Academy of Assisted Reproductive Treatment Attorneys in Chicago. I am the first international Fellow of AAARTA, having joined last year. I will be presenting on 6 October, about surrogacy regulation in Australia.

I last addressed an ART conference of AAARTA back in 2013, in Charleston. It was an amazing and impressive event, with surrogacy lawyers from all over the US and across the globe, including from Europe and South America. Hopefully Chicago will be as impressive.

While in Chicago, I expect to be meeting local IVF doctors and fertility specialists.

Number 7: Las Vegas

After Chicago, on the homeward leg, I will be stopping off at Las Vegas and a flying visit to see Drs Bruce Shapiro and Said Daneshmand at the Fertility Center of Las Vegas, a renowned IVF clinic. Yes, it's not a presentation, but I could not resist the opportunity to pop in.

Number 8: Sydney

After a week in Brisbane, finally back at work, it's off to Sydney for a day trip for Television Education Network. This is to produce a webinar from a TV studio (that's a new one for me) to Australian lawyers about who is a parent under Australian law. What might be seen as an obvious answer has become, courtesy of ART and IVF, and the slow catch up of the law, quite complex at times.

And then, finally, the pace will hopefully slow down!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Nepal stops surrogacy

Last week the Nepal Supreme Court ordered that commercial surrogacy there stop.The order is made until the conclusion of the case, where according to reports, a lawyer has claimed that surrogacy involves exploitation of the surrogate and the child.

Currently 11 Australian babies have been born in Nepal, and left, and about another 60 surrogacies involving Australian intended parents are under way.

It turns out that Nepal has no legal framework for surrogacy at all. Part of the criticism in the case is that the basis for surrogacy in Nepal is a cabinet decision last year to allow surrogacy, provided that the surrogate is not from Nepal. In other words, the Nepalese Government did not ensure that laws were passed to allow surrogacy, just an agreement in principle, that fertility tourism was a great idea, as long as it did not involve Nepalese women, which necessarily means that the surrogates come from India.

A further criticism in the case is that birth certificates are not issued by the appropriate authorities, but by the hospitals concerned, and that children leaving Nepal are doing so in breach of the 1961 Hague Convention on the Protection of Infants. Australia is not a signatory to that Convention. Neither is Nepal.

It is not known how long the order will remain in place or what impact it might have, especially on those midway through the process.

It is yet another example of unclear processes and lack of clarity in a developing country (as seen previously in India in 2012 and Thailand last year) that has led to rules being changed, or indeed rules suddenly being written or created, which changes the game for those unfortunate enough to have gone there.

It is yet another example why compensated surrogacy should be allowed to occur in Australia- to reduce demand for overseas surrogacy arrangements in developing countries. Australians would much rather go to their local IVF clinic and undertake surrogacy here than go somewhere else, given the choice.