I thank the honourable members on their very thorough and thoughtful representations regarding this bill. There are a number of issues that will be discussed and debated. I will spend some time in committee on presenting a case as to why I believe that the minimum age for the birth mother should be increased from 21 to 25 years. I will further elaborate on those thoughts during the committee stage.
While I am generally in support of this bill, I have some personal reservations regarding surrogacy. In this chamber, I very rarely resort to mentioning or highlighting personal experience, but this sensitive issue is one that I believe I would like to place on record. I have discussed this issue with my wife and my sister. Mel has a very different opinion, which is not surprising; she is fully supportive of surrogacy and its effect on individuals, families and communities.
Mel and I have been married for 22 years. After teaching in London for 12 months we returned home, I was 34 and Mel was 31, and we were discussing having children. We decided that two West Highland White Terriers might be a stop-gap measure -
Before committing to a family. Out of the blue, Mel began having petit mal seizures which, having no prior history of this condition, was both a surprise and a shock to us. Unfortunately they developed into full-blown grand mal seizures. This was so serious that Mel was unable to drive a car for 13 years. During this period numerous medications were trialled to find an effective and appropriate one.
Mel underwent scar tissue removal from her brain which meant six weeks in Melbourne, 43 stitches in her head and some very anxious moments. This operation seemingly had the desired effect and all was well for about eight months, and the discussion about a family returned. Mel was travelling back from a teachers' conference with some girlfriends, the seizures returned with vengeance and in three months Mel had over 300 grand mal seizures, many of them lasting between 8 and 12 minutes. After a few minutes' rest she would start again. One day Mel had six seizures at home in the morning, the doctor came down and gave her an injection to calm her and thought this would be sufficient. By the time he had returned to his office Mel was back into seizure land. She had 21 that day and could not control the seizures for several days before she was flown back to hospital in Melbourne.
I will not be much longer as I don't wish to sidetrack or lengthen discussion on this issue. Mel's seizures and medications meant that having children was not a priority. We are fortunate to have a very close family. My sister, who already had a son, was very genuine with her offer to act as a surrogate. Whilst Mel and I were not surprised at this proposition, we tend to live by the motto 'such is life'. I would also not like to ever place my sister under pressure.
Unfortunately by the time Mel's condition was under control, we were perhaps too tired and old to consider adoption. The dangers of having a young baby and little warning of seizures meant that it was too risky. Mel and I tend not to live in the past. Should we have accepted Vic's offers? I am not certain. I believe that my wife would have been a wonderful mother as she is a real storyteller, a passionate person and loves life.
I have reservations regarding surrogacy. However, I also understand and appreciate that surrogacy allows couples to have families where children are treasured. It is a pathway to holding a baby in their arms, but it is not an easy one. I have some good friends whose joy in being a family needs to be seen to be believed. There are many stories out there which we need to recognise. We also need to provide the best possible framework to ensure that birth mothers, intended parents and children are all supported through this process.