France has the right to ban surrogate parenthood but not to refuse granting legal to parent-child relationships of children born to surrogate mothers, the ECHR ruled on Thursday.
The “legal guinea pigs”, as one father described them, were two families, the Mennessons and the Labassees, who have children born to surrogate mothers in the US, where the practise is legal in some states.
Twins, Valentina and Fiorella Menesson, were born in 2000 in California, having been conceived from their father’s sperm and a donor’s oocyte, and have US citizenship.
Juliette Labassee was born in Minnesota in 2001 in similar circumstances, and is also a US national.
Although a California court had recognised Dominique and Sylvie Menesson as the twins’ parents before their birth a long legal battle in France ended with the appeal court refusing the status.
Francis and Monique Labassee had appealed against an official refusal to recognise Juliette as their daughter.
The ECHR ruled that the French decision was an infringement of the children’s right to respect for their private life, while recognising France’s right to declare surrogacy illegal on its territory and its concern that French parents’ might go abroad to use the procedure.
The status quo “undermined the children’s identity within French society”, the court found and meant that their inheritance rights were less favourable than those of other children.
It ordered the French state to pay each of the children 5,000 euros as well as legal costs.
“This is a great relief,” declared Dominique Menesson after the judgement and he called on French authorities not to appeal against it.
The couple’s lawyer, Patrice Spinosi, claimed that 2,000 children are in the same situation as his clients’ children.
President François Hollande told Têtu magazine in 2012 that changing the current law could “open the way to surrogacy”.
The government has been loath to tackle the question since the right-wing campaign against its gay marriage bill, when opponents accused the Socialists of undermining the family and wanting to legalise medically assisted procreation.
Surrogacy is legal in some European countries, including the UK and the Netherlands, and in some states in the US.