I beg to move, ‘That the Bill be now read a second time’.
The Bill deals with the legal parentage and status of children conceived through assisted reproduction technology, or ART. This is now being introduced because of the increased use of ART treatment in Singapore.
We have been studying possible legislation in this area. We consulted the public last November on a draft Bill. That followed earlier consultation with family law experts and religious groups in 2011. We studied the Law Reform Committee’s 1997 Report on status of children born through artificial conception. We also looked at and discussed the legal position and practices of other jurisdictions including the UK, Australia and New Zealand.
Having undertaken this review of the legal and sociocultural issues both locally as well as abroad, we settled on a new legislative regime which embraces unique realities of families and children in Singapore.
The Bill really represents the culmination of these efforts. It attempts to do three things:
Clarify the legal parentage and status of children conceived through ART;
Clarify the legal parentage and status of children conceived where the wrong egg, sperm or embryo was used in the fertilisation procedure; and
Modernise laws relating to legitimacy and evidence of paternity.
The Bill does not go into or seek to regulate provision of ART services & treatment in Singapore. It does not seek to deal with surrogacy issues. Those will continue to be regulated by the Ministry of Health
I will now take the House through the main provisions of the Bill.
Contents of the Bill
The premise of the Bill is that a child conceived through ART should have at least one legal parent.
The status of motherhood is governed by clause 6. The gestational or birth mother will be deemed the mother of child in law.
Clauses 7 & 8 govern legal fatherhood. The Bill provides for several broad scenarios.
Where gestational mother is married
Clause 7 deals with the situation where the gestational mother is married.
The gestational mother’s husband is regarded as the legal father of the child, where the husband is:
The genetic father of child;
Not the genetic father, but consented to ART procedure. Consent is presumed unless the contrary is proven; or
Not the genetic father, did not consent to ART procedure, but accepts the child as a child of the marriage, knowing that the child is genetically not his.
Where gestational mother is not married but has a de facto partner
Clause 8 deals with the situation where the gestational mother is in a relationship with a man, as if he were her spouse. The Bill terms this man her de facto partner.
The legal fatherhood is premised on court declaration of parentage, and not the operation of law, in such cases. The de facto partner is not treated as a legal father of child, unless an application is made to the Court, and the Court declares that under clause 8.
Circumstances under which Court declarations can be made are similar to those governing legal fatherhood pertaining to husbands under clause 7.
In terms of what the court has to consider, its primary consideration when exercising the discretion would be the welfare and best interests of child.
Clause 10 sets out the list of factors the Court may consider when the welfare and best interest of child are to be arrived at, including the child’s wishes and the bond developed between the child to any of the party to the proceedings
If the gestational mother subsequently marries her de facto partner after ART treatment, the rules on legal fatherhood pertaining to husbands under clause 7 also apply.
Position of gamete donors: clause 5 disassociates parentage from biological descent. Sperm or egg donors are not to be treated automatically as parents of the child, except as provided by the Bill.
Legal Parentage and Status of Children conceived as a result of an ART Mix-up
The wrong egg, sperm or embryo used in the fertilisation procedure as a result of mistake, negligence, recklessness or fraud could take place.
The Bill sets out the default position to ensure certainty, in the interests of the child. Absent an application to court, legal parentage is determined as if the mix-up had not taken place.
But, any interested party, for example, other sets of parents in the mix-up, can apply to Court for a declaration that he or she be declared as the parent of the child.
This particular provision is unique here. We seek to achieve two objectives: It ensures that the child will not be left parentless if no one wants to take care of the child after discovery of the mix-up; it also gives the Court flexibility to declare parentage where a different result would be in the best interest of child.
Amendments to the Evidence Act and Legitimacy Act
We seek to make amendments to the Evidence Act and Legitimacy Act which are relevant to all children, whether conceived naturally or through ART.
Amendments to the Evidence Act will modernise our laws relating to evidence of paternity.
Clause 16 repeals and re-enacts section 114 of the Act. That is to enable relevant scientific evidence, for example, DNA evidence, to be produced before a Court to displace presumption of paternity.
If we turn to the Legitimacy Act, clause 17 amends section 3(1) of the Legitimacy Act. This was a suggestion of the Singapore Academy of Law’s Law Reform Committee. Previously, an illegitimate child whose father is domiciled in Singapore at the date of marriage can be legitimised by the subsequent marriage of his parents.
Now, the rule is extended to children whose mothers are domiciled in Singapore at the date of marriage. The effect is legitimation where either the father or mother has a strong connection to Singapore.