The Children’s Act 38 of 2005 (“the Act”) makes provision for a valid surrogacy agreement. In terms of the Act, a surrogate agreement is concluded when ‘the commissioning parent(s) are not able to give birth to a child and the condition is permanent or irreversible’.
Prior to the introduction of modern technology, specifically that of reproductive techniques, ‘traditional or partial surrogacy’ was the only method available to women who had no uterus or abnormalities of the uterus to have children. Recently, artificial insemination is used to inseminate surrogate hosts in order for the surrogate mother to carry the child. The Act governs the artificial fertilisation of a surrogate mother.
There are two types of surrogacy agreements, namely partial surrogacy and full (gestational) surrogacy. Partial surrogacy is the method used in the case where the husband’s gamete together with the gamete of the surrogate mother, is inseminated into the internal reproductive organs of the surrogate mother. As a result, the child is genetically linked to the father and surrogate mother. Full surrogacy refers to the instance where the gametes of both the commissioning parents are inseminated into the internal reproductive organs of the surrogate mother. In essence, the surrogate mother has no genetic link to the child.
A surrogate to a partial surrogacy agreement has 60 days during which she can terminate the agreement after the birth of the child. However, in terms of gestational surrogacy agreement, the parties to the agreement are not given the option to terminate the agreement. Additionally, in this case, the surrogate mother cannot refuse to relinquish the child to the commissioning parents.
The law of contract in South Africa revolves around two main principles, namely pacta sunt servanda (Latin for “agreements must be kept”) and the freedom to contract. These principles imply that the obligations arising out of the agreement must be enforced. The reality of these two principles is that they do not exist in isolation, as they are subject to legislative and judicial decisions. Despite meeting the ordinary requirements of a contract, a surrogacy agreement is a unique contract as there are conflicting human rights and interests involved when a dispute arises out of such an agreement.
Forcing a surrogate mother who is not genetically linked to the child to hand the child over to the commissioning parents when she refuses to do so has been described as a sacrifice of a woman’s reproductive autonomy to the principle of pacta sunt servanda.
The fundamental rights and values of the Constitution cannot be ignored in surrogacy agreements as Section 12(2)(a) – (b) of the Constitution clearly provides “everyone the right to bodily and psychological integrity, which includes the right to make decisions [regarding] reproduction [and] to security in and the control over the body”.
For a surrogacy agreement to be valid it must meet the requirements set in chapter 19 of the Act. When such a surrogacy agreement is invalid, the common law position will apply insofar as the woman who gave birth to the child would be regarded as the legal mother of the child whether or not such a child has a genetic relation with her.
This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)