THE minister responsible for Manitoba's Vital Statistics Agency says he will investigate whether rules and procedures can be changed to avoid the frustration suffered by a city couple whose names weren't listed on the certificates of their twin sons' births.
"We're going to continue to look at what is happening in other jurisdictions and see what we can do to help make it easier for couples in this situation," Jim Rondeau said Tuesday.
Rondeau was responding to the story of Mike Olson and Lisa Seel, parents of twin boys born Dec. 24. The babies were carried to term by Seel's sister, Averill Stephenson, following embryo transplants.
The couple got legal advice on how to proceed with the surrogacy, but were unprepared for how Vital Statistics would record their sons' births. Stephenson was listed as the mother on the birth certificates, and since she is legally married, her husband was automatically listed as the dad. Olson and Seel now have to go to court to have the birth certificates reflect the reality they are, in fact, the parents.
But both Rondeau and the director of Vital Statistics, Susan Boulter, said Tuesday the couple's lawyers should have warned them they would have to apply to the courts to make the changes.
And Boulter said the court process is neither overly cumbersome, nor is it all that rare. "So far this year, we've had 39 children that have been reported as a result of assisted human reproduction in some way," she said. Last year, there were 81 such instances.
Boulter said the rules are designed with the interests of children in mind and apply to the majority of births.
"You have to understand, there are 17,000 births (in Manitoba) a year," she said. "These happen everywhere, from back of ambulances to small birthing centres. We have to make sure that the rules and the paperwork are pretty straightforward for the people to fill in. We have people who don't speak English, who are new immigrants, who are illiterate. We have to make it (the process) as streamlined as possible."
Currently, rules governing the recording of births do not recognize surrogacy, so an application has to be made to the courts to establish parentage. Birth documents can and are changed upon court orders. And they're done more frequently than the public might think.
For instance, the father is only automatically recorded on a birth certificate if he is legally married to the birth mother. Many babies are born to unmarried women. To list the father, the two parents must file a joint request in which both parents agree on the identity of the dad.
In cases where a woman is still legally married but is no longer living with her husband and has a child with someone else, a statutory declaration is needed to clarify the true father (as again the presumption is the legal husband is the father).
In Manitoba, births must be registered within five days of their occurrence. In cases such as Olson's and Seel's, the dad, Olson, could have got a court order in advance declaring him to be the father, but the surrogate mother would still have been listed as birth mother, Boulter said.
Olson said Tuesday he and his wife brought their situation to the public's attention in the hopes of streamlining the process for future couples.
Boulter said the province recently became aware British Columbia has amended its laws to prevent couples from having to obtain a court order. Manitoba has just received a copy of the B.C. law and is studying it.