22 January 2014

Birth Registration Form Amended: Amendments Problematic

The Vital Statistics Agency has updated its Birth Registration form to reflect the assisted reproduction provisions of Part 3 of the new Family Law Act which allow people to make agreements that say who is and is not the parent of a child, and allows a child to have more than two parents.

Under s. 2 of the Vital Statistics Act, a medical professional present at the birth of a child must notify Vital Statistics Agency of the birth within 48 hours. 

Under s. 3, the parent or parents of a newborn must register the birth with Vital Statistics within 30 days; this is the form which has been updated. The Birth Registration form tells the agency who the parents of the child are, what name has been chosen for the child and the date and place of the child's birth, and is required for the agency to issue a birth certificate.

In the new form, which incidentally can also be used to register children conceived in the traditional manner:
  • the birth mother must declare that the child was born as a result of assisted reproduction
  • the father must declare that he is not the biological father of the child and was married to or in a marriage-like relationship with the mother at the time the child was conceived
  • up to two additional people may be registered as parents of the child, and must declare that their "reproductive material" was used in the conception of the child
So far so good, however there are two problems with the copy of the form I've been able to review.

Surrogate Mothers 

In addition to the donation of eggs or sperm, the Family Law Act allows for surrogacy and lets people to make an agreement that says that the surrogate mother, is not a parent of the child. 

However, the form requires the mother, who must be surrogate mother since she is the one who gave birth to the child, to complete the form when she may not in fact be a parent of the child as a result of an assisted reproduction agreement. And, since the child was carried to term by a surrogate mother, it is unlikely that the intended father is going to be be married to or in marriage-like relationship with her. He's likely going to be in a married or marriage-like relationship with the intended mother.

Now, neither the Vital Statistics Act nor the form say "birth mother," they just say "mother" and "parent." You might think this would allow the intended mother to fill out that part of the form, but there are a few reasons why that won't work. First, without a definition of "mother" or a clear statement of the intention of the form, "mother" must be given its ordinary meaning as a woman who has given birth to a child. Second, the spots available for two other parents, are reserved for people who are not the mother or father, and whose genetic material was used in the conception of the child. That would let the intended mother sign up, assuming her eggs were used, which may not be the case, but it would cut out the father, who is supposed to be married to or in a marriage-like relationship with the birth mother.

There's an easy fix for this. The form could describe the "mother" who fills out the form as the "mother / surrogate mother" and describe the "father" as the "father / intended father." The surrogate mother would check a box if she is not going to be a "parent", which will remove her from registration as a parent. There would be an additional section for an "intended mother", and the form would require the father / intended father to be married to or in a marriage-like relationship with either the mother or intended mother of the child. The form must also be changed to allow an intended mother to be registered as a parent of the child in cases where her eggs were not use to conceive the child and she did not give birth to the child.

Three, Four or Five?

The Family Law Act describes "intended parent" as one or two people who intend to be the parents of a child and make an agreement, prior to conception, that they will be the parents of the child "regardless of whether that person's or those persons' human reproductive material was used in the child's conception." As a result, and bearing in mind the act's provisions for surrogacy, it is possible that there may be two intended parents who may have no genetic connection to the child and neither of whom carried the child to term.

Doing the math, it seems that the Birth Registration form needs another slot for "parent" to accommodate:
  • intended parent 1
  • intended parent 2
  • a donor of eggs
  • a donor of sperm 
  • a surrogate mother
Thankfully the fix for this is even easier than the fix required for surrogate mothers who do not intend to be a parent of the child they give birth to.

Filling out the Form

The agency intends to make the paper and electronic forms available only to medical professionals, and prefers to steer mothers to their online registration process. The agency will give mothers the paper form that handles both natural and assisted reproduction on request... which is what you'd better do since their online process doesn't accommodate children born of assisted reproduction.