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VLRC: Adopting community involvement

Every Issue

Cite as: (2005) 79(4) LIJ, p. 69

One of the VLRC’s main goals is to involve the community in the law reform process every step of the way.

The Victorian Law Reform Commission’s (VLRC) Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) and Adoption project is nearing its final stages, with the release of a series of position papers for public comment.

The project has attracted substantial public interest and the VLRC is keen to keep people involved in the development of its final recommendations.

The next stage will be the release of three position papers that will include interim recommendations. This is the first time the VLRC has published a series of short position papers and the aim is to give as many people as possible the opportunity to comment on the interim recommendations.

The central question in the project is whether access criteria for ART, surrogacy and adoption should be changed.

The VLRC has already held two public events: a workshop to explore some of the questions raised in the consultation paper, and a forum where three research papers were launched. The consultation paper, which was released in December 2003, has had 235 submissions, the highest number the VLRC has received for any project so far.

Not surprisingly, the submissions covered a broad spectrum of views. Some people wanted some restrictions to access, while others argued there should be no eligibility criteria, as has always been the case in NSW and Queensland.

Some of the main views of those who supported changes were that:

  • the law should not interfere with a woman’s decision to bear a child by ART, particularly as fertile people do not have to satisfy any eligibility requirements before they can bear children;
  • access to ART should not be governed by criteria which discriminate between different women because of their sexuality or marital status; the only requirement should be that the woman is “unable to become pregnant”;
  • the best interests of children, rather than the marital status of their parents, should be the main basis for deciding eligibility for ART; and
  • the law should recognise the female partner of a woman who has a child through ART as the child’s parent.

Some of the main views expressed by opponents of change were that:

  • ART should be carefully regulated because it affects the best interests of children;
  • the current criteria (which allow treatment of single women and women in lesbian relationships who are clinically infertile) are not satisfactory and should be made more restrictive;
  • people should not be able to use donated gametes because it is not in the best interests of children to be conceived in this way, or to be deprived of a relationship with their genetic parents; and
  • it is in the best interests of children to be born into traditional families, where they have a mother and a father.

The issues raised in the consultation paper, in submissions and in other consultations have also been examined at a number of VLRC convened expert roundtables.

So far, the public process has been concerned with broad policy questions. It is now time to present models and options for reform and allow people to have their say on them.

As public interest in this project has been so intense and has involved people from all sectors of society, the VLRC decided to dispense with a lengthy interim report or options paper in favour of a series of short position papers.

These papers will be clearly structured, written in plain English and will explain what the VLRC thinks needs to be done to improve the law.

The position papers will look at three topics – eligibility (including posthumous use of gametes, and gamete donation), parentage and adoption (including birth registration and access to information) and surrogacy.

The first paper is due out shortly, with the next paper due roughly one month later and the third paper a month after that. The public will have one month after the release of each paper to make comments.

The VLRC found that in the submissions to the consultation paper most people were interested in one or two aspects of the inquiry, rather than all the issues. Using the position papers to break the project into subject areas will allow people to concentrate on the issues they are most interested in.

Once the VRLC has received submissions to the position papers and conducted any further consultations, it will begin preparing the final report and recommendations.

At this stage, the VLRC plans to give the final report to the Attorney-General towards the end of this year. Once he has received the report, the Attorney-General has 14 parliamentary sitting days to table it.

If you are interested in receiving the position papers, please email the VLRC on law.reform@lawreform.vic.gov.au.


Contributed by the VICTORIAN LAW REFORM COMMISSION. For further information, ph 8619 8619 or visit the website http://www.lawreform.vic.gov.au.

viclawreform@liv.asn.au

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