France's top court refused Wednesday to allow French citizenship for 10-year-old twin girls born to a surrogate mother in the United States, in a ruling that affirmed France's legal ban on surrogacy.
In a case straddling international legal rights and bioethics, the Court of Cassation ruled a California county went too far by ruling that a French couple are legally the twins' parents.
The ruling exposes the legal limbo that many would-be parents find themselves in because of inconsistencies on surrogacy between countries like the United States, which legally recognizes it, and France, which does not.
Other countries, like Belgium, are largely silent on the subject, leaving the door open to different interpretations and leaving an international legal void in many cases.
Because Sylvie Mennesson was unable to bear children, she and her husband, Dominique, turned to a surrogate mother with his sperm and a donor's egg. The surrogate mother gave birth to the twins in California in 2000, and the girls have U.S. citizenship. Under California's surrogacy rights laws, San Diego County said the Mennessons were the girl's legal parents.
Wednesday's ruling follows a lower court's order that stripped the twins from France's civil registry. Being listed on the civil registry is a requirement for obtaining documents including identity cards or passports.
French state attorneys had asked the high court to grant the couple's effort to have the twins kept in the civil registry, arguing such a move was in the "superior interest" of the children _ and as such should take precedence.
But the high court rejected that, saying that to recognize the filiation between the twins and their French parents would run counter to "public order" in France; in other words, it would conflict with French law.
The court, in its judgment, said the cancellation of such a transfer from the U.S. to French civil registry "does not infringe upon the right and respect of the private and familial life of these children."
While the court ruled that the girls cannot be listed in France's civil registry, it also said that nothing "prevents them from living with the Mennessons in France."
The Mennessons said they were "crestfallen" about the verdict. Their lawyer said they planned to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. They also hope an expected bill in France's parliament on bioethics will soon pave the way for surrogacy to be permitted under French law.