Wednesday, March 9, 2016

New evidence of the conflict of interest of the rapporteur of the PACE report in surrogacy

Petra De Sutter collaborates directly with a commercial surrogacy clinic in India

On the 15th of March, the Social Affairs and Health Committee (SOC) of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) will convene again to vote and discuss on the Report: “Human rights and ethical issues related to surrogacy”. As we saw in a previous post on my blog, the author of this report, Mrs Petra De Sutter, a Belgian parliamentarian and the head of the Department for Reproductive Medicine at the University Hospital of Ghent (a country where surrogacy is legal) is campaigning for creating a legal framework on surrogacy for surrogacy activities she is conducting herself. Despite the fact that these facts have long ago been made public, Mrs De Sutter still remains the rapporteur for this report as an attempt to have a secret vote on the suspicion of conflict of interest failed to gather the necessary majority at SOC. 

New information that was revealed in a Huffington post published article, showed that the conflict of interest is even worse. On the website of  “Seeds of Innocence”, a clinic in India that practices commercial surrogacy (which is allowed in India), openly boasts about its collaboration with De Sutter. Mrs De Sutter was also present in the inauguration of this clinic where a memorandum of cooperation was signed with the University of Ghent. This newly revealed information confirms our earlier suspicions and raises serious doubts on Mrs De Sutter’s ability to act as an impartial rapporteur and the ethical integrity of the Council of Europe is more and more on stake.

Despite the fact that Mrs De Sutter claims to oppose commercial surrogacy and denies any personal involvement in the practice of surrogacy, the “Seeds of Innocence” Clinic is openly advertising on their website their collaboration with her which dates back to August 2015. More specifically, they explain that “[W]hat makes Seeds of innocence unique from other fertility clinics is its collaboration with the department of reproductive medicine of the University Hospital of Ghent, Belgium, represented by Prof. Dr. Petra De Sutter. This clinical collaboration is one of its kinds in referring and discussing cases, helping in clinical trials, exchanging academic expertise and in setting up quality management for exemplary services.” It is important to note here that the Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine  called "Oviedo Convention" states in Article 21 that "The human body and its parts shall not, as such, give rise to financial again".

 For the Indian clinic however, the bodies of women and children are an explicit source of profit (commercial surrogacy was permitted in India). The site of Seeds of Innocence mentions: India is a main source of surrogacy. Indian surrogates have been increasingly popular with intended parents in industrialized nations, because of the relatively low cost. Indian clinics ar becoming more competitive, not just in pricing, but in the hiring and retention of Indian females as surrogates under legal arrangements. Commercial surrogacy is permitted in India and this has increased the international confidence in going for surrogacy in India (..) All surrogates at the clinic sign a contract agreeing to hand over the baby (..) The surrogates are well taken care if and well compensated"

The European Convention on the Adoption of Children stipulates that, for a child to be adopted, the woman who gave birth to him there can take this decision only after delivery. 

However, the agreement between the Indian clinic and the University of Ghent  underlines that the name of the surrogate mother will not even appear on the birth certificate. In other words, the child born out of surrogacy is removed the possibility of having a record of the identity of the woman that gave birth to him. 

Contrary to all this overwhelming evidence against Mrs De Sutter, SOC decided (by an open vote) with a very narrow margin(21 against 17) not to vote on the possible dismissal of the rapporteur on grounds of a conflict of interest (Article 3 in conjunction with Article 1.1.1. of the Code of Conduct for rapporteurs). It has to be noted that the vote was not a secret vote on whether Ms De Sutter actually has a conflict of interest. The Members of the Committee simply voted on whether a vote would take place that day. But Mrs De Sutter makes an attempt to distort the facts; she claims that the vote that took place cleared her of any suspicion of conflict of interest. The truth is that the question of her conflict of interest is still pending. 

These facts confirm that Mrs De Sutter’s impartiality is under serious question. Her actions and practices seem to violate international conventions and seem to contradict her own claims that she is against commercial surrogacy. Therefore, the PACE Health Committee members should give serious consideration to this new information before deciding on the proposed report.


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