Monday, November 30, 2015

Interests above Dignity?

The Council of Europe's Health Committee postpones discussion of a Report on Surrogacy

Last Monday, PACE’s Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development decided to postpone a discussion of a draft report on Surrogacy Motherhood, “Human Rights and ethical issues related to surrogacy”. This is good news, because there are many questions bout the position of the rapporteurThe rapporteur, Belgian senator Petra de Sutter[1] openly confirms that she is involved in surrogacy practices in the Belgian hospital where she works[2].

The motion of the resolution asked the rapporteur to actually investigate dangers that surrogacy pose to human dignity, e.g. of the woman carrier as her body and its reproductive function is commercialized. Additionally, the same resolution states that “the practice of surrogacy also disregards the rights and human dignity of the child by effectively turning the baby in question into a product” and that therefore “the Parliamentary Assembly should further examine the issues arising from the practice of surrogacy”[3].  

If you take this into consideration, how can a rapporteur objectively and without bias investigate the practice of surrogacy if she is performing it herself? This fact raises serious suspicions that Dr De Sutter might be in a position of a conflict of interest.

The Parliamentary Assembly has drawn up special rules aiming to prevent conflicts of interest, cronyism and corruption in general, to which members might be exposed during their terms of office. Specifically, in relation to the function of Rapporteurs, Rule 50 of the Rules of Procedure[4] states that “in the exercise of their duties, Rapporteurs shall comply with the rules set forth in the code of conduct for Rapporteurs of the Parliamentary Assembly”. In addition to adhering to the principles of neutrality, impartiality and objectivity, Rapporteurs, under article 1.1.1 of the code of conduct [5], undertake to ‘not to have any economic, commercial, financial or other interests, on a professional, personal or family level, connected with the subject of the report, and obligation to declare any relevant interests”

Furthermore, the code of conduct for members of the Parliamentary Assembly(which is intended to supplement the code of conduct for Rapporteurs) states at article 8 that members (including Rapporteurs) shall avoid conflicts between any actual or potential economic, commercial, financial or other interests on a professional, personal or family level on the one hand, and the public interest in the work of the Assembly at the other; if the member is unable to avoid such a conflict of interest, it shall be disclosed. 

As Dr. De Sutter is the head of the division for reproductive medicine in the University Hospital of Ghent which is actively supportive of surrogacy arrangements, regardless the absence of Belgian legal framework on surrogacy, she therefore might have considerable financial and professional interests in advocating and lobbying for laws that legalise surrogacy arrangements. This direct professional interest in the legalisation of surrogacy arrangements gives raise to reasonable presumption that her work on the issue might suffer from prejudice and bias. Henceforth, public interest at stake might not be sufficiently safeguarded.

Let’s hope that the Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development Committee of  PACE will seriously consider the possible conflict of interest of Dr. De Sutter and that its final decision will respect the traditions of the Council of Europe. One has to add that a 2011 resolution adopted by the European Parliament asks Member States to “acknowledge the serious problem of surrogacy which constitutes an exploitation of the female body and her reproductive organs[6]. Additionally, it causes children to be separated from their mother contrary to the Convention on the Rights of the Child which clearly stipulates that every child has “the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents” (article 7.1)[7]

Surrogacy, a quickly spreading phenomenon gaining more and more popularity should be thoroughly scrutinized keeping in mind, that the rights and dignity of women and children should always be upheld above any other considerations.  

In the mean time, the petition to have a European ban on surrogacy has collected already more than 100,000 signatures. If you like to sign this petition, please click here

[1] Curriculum Vitae of Petra De Sutter available at:

[3] The full text of the motion for resolution available at:

[4] Rules of Procedure of the Assembly ((Resolution 1202 (1999) adopted on 4 November 1999) with subsequent modifications of the Rules of Procedure) available at:

[5] Parliamentary Assembly ‘Code of Conduct for Members’ available at:

[6] “New EU policy framework to fight violence against women”

[7] “Convention on the Rights of the Child: available at:

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