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HEALTH

Germany debates legalizing egg donations and surrogacy

A German politician is pushing to legalize human egg donation and surrogate motherhood in Germany - both of which are forbidden by a 30-year-old law.

Germany debates legalizing egg donations and surrogacy
Archive picture shows two German children who were born abroad to a surrogate mother as German law forbids surrogacy. Photo: DPA

In addition, up to four people should be be allowed to take responsibility for one child, wrote Katrin Helling Plahr, of the Free Democrats (FDP), in a seven-page position paper on liberalizing fertility treatments in Germany.

In Germany it is prohibited by law to have a child delivered by a surrogate mother. According to Section 1 of the Embryo Protection Act, up to three years imprisonment or a fine is imposed on “anyone who undertakes to perform artificial insemination or transfer a human embryo to a woman who is willing to leave her child permanently to a third party after birth”. 

In such cases, it is the physician, not the donor or the receiving woman, who is punished.

“The Embryo Protection Law is a thing of the past and must be reformed,” the parliamentary member told German newspaper Tagesspiegel on Monday. 

German policy is much too “hesitant” compared to other countries, added Helling Plahr. In Europe, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Luxembourg are the only other countries which forbid surrogate motherhood.

In June, a group of German doctors and medical experts also called for new reproductive health law, calling the current one “outdated”.

The current ban was put in place partially out of worries for a woman's health during a hormonal procedure.

Accepting all family structures

Helling Plahr's initiative also seeks full support for – and acceptance of – all family models.

Currently, state health insurance will only cover half of the costs of fertility treatments if the women wishing to undergo it holds a marriage certificate. 

Yet the politician wants to see non-traditional family structures into account, accepting up to four people as the legal parents of one child.

“Everyone who wants to take responsibility for a child deserves the support of his or her desire to have children regardless of whether he or she lives a classic family or not,” wrote Helling-Plahr.

A full 25 percent of childless women and men between the ages of 20 and 50 in Germany are not so by choice, emphasized the FDP politician, who worked as a medical law lawyer before moving into the Bundestag (parliament) in 2017. 

The costs of fertility treatments often run in the low five-digit range, says Helling-Plahr. Yet these treatments, however, are “linked to restrictive conditions,” she said, and treatment abroad is not covered at all.

Being able to realize the wish to have a child doesn’t only depend on having financial resources, said Plahr, but also on “outdated and incomprehensible norms.”

Creating new rules?

The current Embryo Protection Act dates back to 1990. It was partially put in place to protect the health of woman, who would have to undergo a long hormonal treatment.

Yet in the past 30 years, social values have changed just as much as medical possibilities – and massively, argues Helling Plahr.

For surrogacy, “women in distress” shouldn’t have to go abroad, where “surrogacy is exploited,” said Helling-Plahr. 

She said, however, that commercial surrogacy should not be allowed, but rather only that for “altruistic purposes” – for example, if a sister or friend decide to carry a child on the behalf of a woman who cannot have a child on her own.

She also called for new rules for egg donation to be based on those which already exist for sperm donors – or creating a central registry in which children later have the option to find out who their biological parents are.

'No legal right'

Despite the FDP initiative carrying some restrictions, the association “Spenderkinder” (donor children) has harshly criticized it and especially the demand for the legalization of surrogacy.

 “There is no legal right to a child or a right to become a parent,” spokeswoman Anne Meier-Credner told the news agency KNA.

There is a consensus among psychologists that “an arbitrary separation of an infant from its closest confidant, whom it can distinguish from others by smell and voice, is extremely stressful,” she added.

The question therefore arises as to whether it is justifiable “to expose an infant specifically to these stresses so that adults can fulfil a wish.”

The legal expert of the Green parliamentary group, Katja Keul, told the Tagesspiegel that the regulations for fertility treatment and reproductive medicine are in need of reform.

“But even non-commercial surrogacy carries the risk of abuse and can be detrimental to the well-being of mother and child,” she added.

Vocabulary

Surrogacy – (die) Leihmutterschaft

Embryo Protection Law – (das) Embryonenschutzgesetz

Hesitant – Zögerlich

Incomprehensible – nicht nachvollziehbar

Statutory health insurance – (die) gesetzliche Krankenversicherung

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HEALTH

Monkeypox in Germany: Two teens ‘among new infections’

Two teenage boys between the ages of 15-17 have reportedly been infected by monkeypox, as the number of cases in Germany continues to grow.

Monkeypox in Germany: Two teens 'among new infections'

German news site Spiegel Online first reported the new cases – which are an anomaly for a virus as it has mostly affected gay men – following an inquiry to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI). 

They are among a total of 2,677 people who are confirmed to have contracted the virus in Germany to date. There have not been any fatalities.

Out of these, only five cases were women, according to the RKI. The public health institute said that it does not release information on individual cases.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How Germany wants to contain the monkeypox

The disease – which is not usually fatal – often manifests itself through fever, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, chills, exhaustion and a chickenpox-like rash on the hands and face.

The virus can be transmitted through contact with skin lesions and droplets of a contaminated person, as well as through shared items such as bedding and towels.

Many of the cases known so far concern homosexual and bisexual men. However, affected people and experts have repeatedly warned against stigmatising gay communities.

How fatal is the disease?

The first monkeypox cases were reported in Germany on May 20th, as the disease continued to spread in West Europe.

At the weekend, the first two deaths outside of West Africa were reported in Spain.

READ ALSO: WHO warns ‘high’ risk of monkeypox in Europe as it declares health emergency

The RKI has urged people returning from West Africa and in particular gay men, to see their doctors quickly if they notice any chances on their skin.

According to the latest estimates, there are 23,000 monkeypox cases worldwide, and Europe is particularly affected with 14,000 cases.

There have been 2,677 monkeypox cases in Germany as of August 2, 2022. Photo: CDC handout

About eight percent of patients in Europe have been hospitalised so far, reported the World Health Association on Monday, mostly due to severe pain or additional infections.

In general, the mortality of the variant currently circulating in Europe is estimated to be low.

READ ALSO: More cases of monkeypox ‘expected’ in Germany

Will a vaccine make a difference?

Since July, a vaccine has been authorised in 27 EU member states and in Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. 

The Standing Committee on Vaccination (STIKO) recommends vaccination against monkeypox in Germany for certain risk groups and people who have had close contact with infected people.

So far, the German government has ordered 240,000 vaccine doses, of which 40,000 had been delivered by Friday. 

Around 200,000 doses are set to follow by the end of September. 

The German Aids Federation (DAH) on Friday called for one million vaccine doses, stressing that the current supplies will fall short of meeting need.

“The goal must be to reduce the number of infections as quickly as possible and to get the epidemic permanently under control,” explained Ulf Kristal of the DAH board in Berlin on Friday.

But this is only possible, he said, if as many people at risk of infection as possible are vaccinated.

“We don’t assume the epidemic will be over when the doses available so far have been vaccinated,” Axel Jeremias Schmidt, Epidemiologist and DAH Consultant for Medicine and Health Policy, wrote in a press release.

As long as there are monkeypox infections, he said, people who are at risk must be offered vaccination. 

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