Prof Fatimah Lateef, MP for Marine Parade GRC
Mr Seah Kian Peng, MP for Marine Parade GRC
Mr Christopher de Souza, MP for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC
Prof Fatimah Lateef: To ask the Minister for Social and Family Development what is the Ministry's position on the recent High Court ruling to award adoption to a single man in a same-sex relationship, of his biological child born through an overseas surrogacy.
Mr Seah Kian Peng: To ask the Minister for Social and Family Development what implications there are with regard to other Government policies including education and housing that need to be reviewed given the recent High Court ruling to award adoption to a single man in a same-sex relationship, of his biological son conceived through a surrogacy done overseas.
Mr Christopher de Souza: To ask the Minister for Social and Family Development whether the Ministry will (i) ban commercial surrogacy in Singapore (ii) prohibit agreements to pay for surrogacy in Singapore or overseas and (iii) disallow adoptions arising from commercial surrogacy whether such surrogacy occurs in Singapore or overseas.
1 Mr Speaker, may I have your permission to take questions number 19, 20 and 21 together?
2 Let me begin by recapping the facts of the case that is the subject of these Parliamentary Questions, so as to provide context to my response.
- The applicant in the case is a male Singaporean in a long-term relationship with another man.
- When the two men inquired about adopting a child, they were advised that MSF was unlikely to recommend the adoption of children by parties who were in a same-sex relationship.
- Both of them then went to the United States for commercial surrogacy, and paid a total of about $200,000 USD to a private company in the United States.
- Under the terms of the surrogacy contract, the arrangement was for the surrogate mother to carry the baby to term, deliver him, and then give up her rights over him.The child was born in 2013, and was handed over to the applicant and his partner.
- The child is a US citizen, and has been brought up in Singapore by the two of them in the same household.
- The applicant later applied to Court to adopt the boy.
- In December 2017, the Family Justice Court ruled against the adoption. The applicant appealed to the High Court.
- In December 2018, the High Court, which comprised 3 judges, allowed the adoption to proceed.
Following the ruling, the applicant and his partner gave media interviews, reported locally and abroad, describing the challenges that same-sex parents faced when wanting to conceive and raise their own children in Singapore, and shared about the process they went through to start a family in Singapore via overseas surrogacy.
3 Understandably, the High Court's decision to grant the appeal has evoked a diverse range of emotions and reactions amongst Singaporeans, and raised questions about its implications.
4 These fall broadly into two categories:
- First, around the definition of marriage, family, and future conceptions of family in society. Some Singaporeans are concerned whether this Court ruling sets a precedent to allow homosexual couples to legally adopt children, and in so doing mainstreams same-sex parent households in Singapore. Others, including LGBT activists, say that this case is a step towards the recognition and legalisation of same-sex relationships.
- Second, on commercial surrogacy: Some have asked whether this ruling legitimises commercial surrogacy carried out overseas, especially in light of the complex ethical questions surrounding this practice.
- Members' questions today reflect this range of views and reactions.
5 Indeed, these emerging issues and divergent attitudes have become increasingly salient in our society.
6 LGBT persons have a place in Singapore society, and are entitled to their own private lives. Just like other Singaporeans, they have access to opportunities and social support such as education, employment, and healthcare, and should, like all Singaporeans, not be subject to prejudice and discrimination. However, we must be mindful that a push for rights and entitlements which broader society is not ready for, or able to accept, will provoke a pushback, and can be very socially divisive. A push to use legislation or the courts to precipitate social change involving issues as deeply-held and personal as this, polarise society.
7 While we recognise that there are increasingly diverse forms of families and households in Singapore, the prevailing social norm in our society is still that of a man and woman marrying, and having and bringing up children within a stable family unit. This is also the family structure that the Government encourages. Most of us would agree that it is ideal for children to grow up in families anchored by strong and stable marriages. This is reflected in the differentiation we maintain in policies and benefits to encourage and support parenthood within marriage.
8 It follows from this that the Government does not encourage planned and deliberate single parenthood as a lifestyle choice. Specifically, we do not support the use of Assisted Reproduction Technology (ART) or surrogacy by singles to conceive children, for the purpose of forming single unwed parent households. Hence, In-Vitro Fertilisation or other Assisted Reproduction Procedures at licensed AR institutions are available in Singapore only to married couples who experience difficulties in natural conception.
9 Over time, social attitudes have evolved to greater acceptance of homosexuals. The Government's policy is not to intrude or interfere with the private lives of Singaporeans, including homosexuals, and their relationships or partnerships. However, we do not support the formation of family units with children and homosexual parents, through institutions and processes such as adoption.
10 Therefore, MSF did not support the appeal by the homosexual couple to adopt the child they had conceived through surrogacy, after they had been informed that the Government would not support the application to adopt a child because this would have been contrary to public policy.
11 In raising this objection, MSF had carefully considered the welfare of the child. Two important aspects were considered. First, the child is not stateless, but is a US citizen. Second, the child remains with the father and will be cared for. The father has full parental rights and responsibilities, even if the adoption is not granted. In fact, the Women's Charter obliges parents to provide for their children, regardless of the children's legitimacy status.
12 The High Court stated that they had reached their decision in this case "with not insignificant difficulty". The Court affirmed the public policy against the formation of same-sex family units, and recognised that granting the adoption would violate it. This was, however, weighed against the interest of the child's welfare. Based on the specific facts of this case, the Court allowed the appeal to adopt the child. We respect and accept the Court's decision.
13 Following the Court's judgment, MSF is reviewing our adoption laws and practices to see how they should be strengthened to better reflect public policy, which in turn is a reflection of the values of our broad society today. For instance, while the welfare of the child should always be a very important consideration in adoption proceedings, we are looking at whether the Adoption of Children Act needs to be amended so that an appropriate balance can be struck when important public policy considerations are involved.
14 We are also studying the issue of surrogacy carefully. This is a complex issue with ethical, social, health and legal implications for all parties involved. For commercial surrogacy in particular, concerns have been raised about the exploitation of women and commodification of children. These issues are not trivial, and warrant careful study and discussion. Persons who are considering surrogacy should take this into account from the outset while making their decision, as such factors could have a significant impact on the child.
15 Today, surrogacy cannot be carried out in Singapore at any licensed healthcare institution that provides assisted reproduction services. Parents who have gone overseas for surrogacy and who come back and apply for adoption of their surrogate children will have their applications assessed on a case-by-case basis. They will also be scrutinised by the Courts during the adoption hearings. Prior to this case, the Courts have granted adoption of 10 children born abroad as a result of surrogacy. These children were all born to married couples applying jointly to adopt their child, who had resorted to surrogacy because the couples were infertile.
16 While an adoption order serves to make a child legitimate under the law, it does not on its own guarantee benefits and privileges such as citizenship, education or housing. Access to housing will continue to be determined by prevailing criteria, in line with public policy supporting parenthood within marriage. All Singaporean children, regardless of their legitimacy status, will receive Government benefits that support their growth and development, including healthcare and education benefits.