A recent article by Nicole Mowbray for British Vogue took an in-depth look at the rise of surrogacy in Britain, along with the associated complex legalities and just some of the moral issues that are involved.
Nicole’s investigation confirms that whilst it is undoubtedly on the increase – with many celebrities turning to surrogacy such as Sarah Jessica Parker, Nicole Kidman and Tom Ford – it is still believed to be “a last resort rather than a lifestyle choice”.
Accurate figures on the number of successful surrogacies in Britain are unobtainable, in part due to the informal arrangements that have been made. Nonetheless, it is clear that it is increasing year on year.
The article notes how the increase in people turning to surrogacy is attributable to factors such as the growing awareness of the procedure as a viable option and the legalisation of same-sex marriage.
People finding themselves in all sorts of different situations, where they would otherwise not be able to have a child of their own, can use surrogacy to fulfil their dreams of becoming a parent: single people, same sex couples, heterosexual couples with certain health conditions can all find surrogacy invaluable.
The process can take a long while
Brilliant Beginnings offers surrogacy services in the UK. Established for four years, its founders are lawyers Natalie Gamble and Helen Prosser. Their work involves matching those yearning to be a parent with the right surrogate, a likeminded individual with similar values and opinions. They then help guide all involved through the intricate legal process too.
The procedure for “matching” intended parents and surrogates can take a long time, the company advises all parties concerned.
Prior to the introduction of Brilliant Beginnings, there were only two recognised surrogacy services in Britain which are Surrogacy UK and Childlessness Overcome Through Surrogacy (COTS). Each of these are successful and they work less formally. More often than not, their “matching” ‘happens at social events, where intended parents meet and make friends with willing surrogates,’ writes Nicole.
Brilliant Beginnings only arranges gestational surrogacies. The main difference between traditional and gestational surrogacy being that, in traditional surrogacy, it is the eggs of the surrogate that are used which makes her the biological mother of the baby she carries, whereas in gestational surrogacy, the surrogate and the baby are not biologically linked.
A broader approach
Surrogacy is available in America too, and whilst there is a price to pay for the services, it is paid in instalments along the way, whereas COTS charge £850 – the legal paperwork is taken care of, giving peace of mind to clients.
The cost varies according to different locations, as Helen explains, stating that “the Ukraine and Georgia surrogacy will cost between £30,000 and £50,000. Canada generally costs less than the United States – between £70,000 and £80,000. Cambodia and India are both closed for surrogacy now. Vietnam, Laos, Kenya and Nigeria are completely unregulated.”
Helen continues: “A lot of people are forced to go abroad and get into muddles when, actually, there are British women who would like to become surrogates, if only the legal framework were better.”
If you are considering taking the surrogacy path to fulfil your dreams of becoming a parent – wherever you choose to do it – it is wise to prepare yourself for an expensive journey.
A brief look at the law
The Vogue article confirms how British laws are complicated and said to be in need of updating. For example, it points out that whilst surrogacy is legal in the UK, ‘it is illegal to pay someone to do it.’ However, it is lawful to pay “reasonable expenses”, in the form of “gifts”. So, Nicole poses the question: ‘But what is a reasonable expense?’ From this one question, alone, it is clear that much work is needed to make the law surrounding surrogacy much clearer to understand. As a guideline, Nicole reports that a ‘case is looked into if, in general, more than £18,000 to £20,000 has changed hands.’
There is a shortage of “official” surrogates in Britain, too. The figure stands at around the jaw-dropping total of approximately 30. This is due to the law stating that advertising or recruiting for surrogates is illegal.
In the US, the laws vary from State to State, with some not lawfully recognising surrogacy, so it’s important to know what laws you are working within in advance. Generally, they are more straightforward though.
Dr Ashim Kumar’s Western Fertility Institute, in LA, offers couples travelling abroad a kind of “surrogacy concierge”. They take care of travel and accommodation arrangements as well as the more complicated practicalities. They are seen as ‘Part medical practice, part surrogacy agency’. He says that the more particular the request, when it comes to traits and characteristics, such as eye or hair colour or even specific intelligence levels or talents, the more costly it will be.
He explains that this is the case when it comes to ethnicity too; the more precise, the higher the price tends to be. The doctor tells Vogue: “There are very few Asian egg donors, for example, so that can cost more. We had one intended parent from Britain who wanted to use a surrogate who had been to Harvard. And we found her one, but it was expensive.”
When asked if his organisation has ever had to deal with an issue where a surrogate wanted to keep a child, his response is a reassuring: “Never,” and continues: “There is no coercion. Doing this for someone makes you feel really special about your place in the world. It is the ultimate altruism.”
The birth and after
Needless to say, things become more complex when there are four people involved: the practicalities of who will be at the birth, for example.
Following the birth, much needs to be done. The surrogate must give her ‘consent for a parental order to be lodged at court, six weeks after the birth of the baby. This must ‘be applied for within six months.’ If all goes to plan, the intended parents will, at last, have a new birth certificate which shows them as the child’s parents and the old certificate – which shows the surrogate as the parent – is sealed in the court documents.
Not necessarily what you know…
Fertility specialist, Dr Marie Wren talking of her clinic at London’s Lister Hospital, she says: “The arrangements that work best are usually with relatives, because you have to know your surrogate, and it’s important that the commissioning couple are able to step back and not be too controlling.”
Vogue’s article is well worth a read, giving various perspectives and differing, real experiences.