South Africa: Genetic-link requirement for surrogacy is constitutional

Congratulations to Ronaldah Lerato Karabo Ozah and the Centre for Child Law at the University of Pretoria, a law clinic which was accepted and thanked as amicus curiae in this recent decision:

AB and Surrogacy Advisory Group v. the Minister of Social Development (Centre for Child Law as Amicus Curiae)  CCT 155/15, decided November 29, 2016 (Constitutional Court of South Africa)  Decision online.

On 29 November 2016, the South African Constitutional Court found that the “genetic-link requirement” for surrogate motherhood agreements is constitutionally valid and does not unjustifiably limit the rights of persons who cannot contribute their own gametes for surrogate motherhood agreements. The decision follows the challenge by the Applicants to section 294 of the Children’s Act (38 of 2005) which requires that the gametes of at least one of the commissioning parents must be used for the conception of a child to be born from a surrogate motherhood agreement.

The first applicant was “AB,” a woman in her late fifties who had exhausted medical possibilities to conceive and carry a child to term, whether naturally with her former husband or through in vitro fertilization with personal or anonymous donor ova or sperm. Turning to surrogacy, but unable to supply parental sperm or ova, she and the Surrogacy Advisory Group challenged South Africa’s legal requirement of one parental gamete.  The Children’s Act (ch. 19, sec. 294) provides as follows:

Genetic origin of child. No surrogate motherhood agreement is valid unless the conception of the child contemplated in the agreement is to be effected by the use of the gametes of both commissioning parents or, if that is not possible due to biological, medical or other valid reasons, the gamete of at least one of the commissioning parents or, where the commissioning parent is a single person, the gamete of that person.”

Previously, in August 2015, the High Court at Gauteng had held that this section “is inconsistent with the Constitution for violating rights including equality, privacy, dignity, the right to bodily and psychological integrity, and the right to health care of persons who are unable to contribute a gamete or gametes in the surrogacy arrangement.”  The matter was then referred to the Constitutional Court for confirmation of constitutional invalidity.

The decision of the Constitutional Court was split 7/4, with the majority of the court finding that the provision does not unjustifiably limit the rights of the applicants to equality, reproductive autonomy, reproductive health and privacy (paras 275-324). The Constitutional Court found that section 294 of the Children’s Act was rationally connected to its purpose, which is to safeguard the genetic origin of the child for the best interests of the child. (para. 288)   Furthermore, the Court was of the view that the High Court judgment had over-emphasised the interests of the commissioning parent(s) and overlooked the purpose of the impugned provision and the best interests of children. (para.293)   Although the Constitutional Court did not go so far as to proclaim a right to know one’s genetic origin, it acknowledged that children born of surrogate motherhood agreements do have an interest that needs to be protected by laws that will ensure that they can know at least one of their genetic parents.

References online:

AB and Surrogacy Advisory Group vs. Minister of Social Development, Nov. 29, 2016 (Constitutional Court of South Africa) Full text:  2016 Constitutional Court decision. 

Previous decision, 2015: AB and Surrogacy Advisory Group vs. Minister of Social Development [2015] ZAGPPHC 580 (High Court of South Africa).  2015 High Court decision  Summary by Godfrey Kangaude for: Legal Grounds: Reproductive and Sexual Rights in Sub-Saharan African Courts.  228 pages, free from PULP.

The Children’s Act 38 of 2005, South Africa, with later amendments,  is online here.

Amicus curiae submission by the Centre for Child Law, University of Pretoria  is online here.

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