Surrogacy is legal in the U.K. (as long as it isn’t for commercial reasons) but there aren’t many people willing to donate their time and bodies for nine months to carry a child for somebody else. This has given rise to Brits going abroad to find surrogate candidates — but doing so has a range of fraught ethical, financial and legal ramifications.
According to international organisation Families Through Surrogacy, over the last three years more than 1,000 British couples have sought surrogates abroad, the highest number of all European countries. In almost two-thirds of legal cases where parents have been conferred rights to children born through surrogacy the children in question have been born overseas.
Countries that are popular for surrogacy arrangements are the U.S., Thailand, Ukraine and Russia.
India has also been a popular destination, boasting a £275 million surrogacy industry until last year when it banned services to foreign couples, citing exploitation issues. Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, Director General of the Indian Council for Medical Research told the BBC, “It’s a sad thing that people are so desperate that they’re willing to rent out their bodies for something like this.”
The problem of ethics
When it comes to foreign commercial surrogacy, it becomes a heated debate with passionate views held on both sides. It is easy for a wealthy, educated family to exploit a vulnerable woman who is need of money. However some surrogates argue that they don’t personally feel exploited. In an interview for Yes and Yes, U.S. surrogate Dana said, “I’m one of those women who actually enjoy being pregnant!” She further says that she wanted to add to her household income without the inflexibility of a traditional job. “I didn’t want to work full time, didn’t want to work evenings, weekends or in retail and I didn’t want my household work or involvement in my kids’ school to have to drop too much. Surrogacy became a brilliant option.”
The ethical debate is complex but it is something that prospective parents must face in going overseas and paying for a surrogacy arrangement.
Overseas surrogacy can also involve large costs. According to Families Through Surrogacy, it costs around £91,000 (plus insurance) to arrange surrogacy in the U.S. Other countries can be cheaper (as low as £24,500) but, like India, some of the world’s cheapest destinations (such as Nepal, Thailand and Mexico) are broadening their regulation of the practice.
Despite these average figures, costs are difficult to estimate. For one thing, pregnancy is never guaranteed and multiple procedures may be required. Miscarriage is also a possibility. In addition the costs of flights and accommodation, legal fees and so on will need to be factored in.
One strategy to keep costs lower is to fertilize the egg in the parents’ home country before taking it to the surrogate’s country to be implanted, where it would be cheaper to do so.
While there’s much guesswork in the financial aspects of surrogacy, the legal issues can be even more difficult. Under U.K. law the surrogate is recognised as the mother until a legal order is made otherwise. Even bringing a surrogate child to the U.K. can be difficult as a consequence.
According to Surrogacy UK, an organisation that provides information and support for those seeking domestic surrogate arrangements, “it is important to realise that in the eyes of the law, the baby is not yours until the Parental Order has been issued after the baby is born: that means the surrogate could keep the baby if she chose to.”
At the moment, because of the U.K.’s Surrogacy Arrangements Act, a binding contract about who the parents of a child are cannot be made when a surrogacy is being negotiated. This leaves a lot of doubt for hopeful parents, despite the costs they’ve met in the process.
Potential solutions to the anguish of surrogacy aren’t easy to come by. Within the U.K. no doubt commercial surrogacy could increase the opportunities parents have of finding an arrangement here. But even then questions around ethics, or who the parents of the baby are and at what point, will continue to complicate surrogacy.