Families Through Surrogacy first conference on surrogacy in Sweden in August 2017, did something never before attempted. We brought altruistic and compensated surrogates to Stockholm to explain why they had chosen to carry.
It was a risky proposition in a country with conservative regulations around surrogacy. Unlike countries such as the UK, altruistic surrogach has never been permitted in Sweden and a government task force recommended in 2016 that this ban be upheld and Swedes also be blocked from international surrogacy.
However we knew Sweden and Norway were two one of the larger users of surrogacy globally. Research in 2015 had showed that despite the absence of access domestically, Sweden was the sixth largest and Norway the third largest user of international surrogacy proportionate to population, despite a messy process of ensuring legal parentage
Local infertility NGOs were keen to attend a Stockholm event, given they had been shrugging off surrogacy questions for many years without any reliable information. The conference registrations were far larger than expected, with intended parents travelling from Finland, Norway, Germany as well as Sweden.
As the day dawned however, activists dressed as ‘Handmaiden’s’ from Margaret Atwood’s dysptopian tale, turned Netflix series assembled in quiet protest out the front. Some of the braver surrogates and parents confronted them quietly
And the highlight was of course the final panel of surrogates explaining why they wanted to give the gift of family to couples they had perhaps not met before.
But were these protestors representative of community views in Sweden and Norway? To find out, we commissioned a Swedish research firm to conduct an online of a representative sample of 803 Swedes and Norwegians, aged 18-49 years.
The results showed the majority of participants in both countries were supportive of access to surrogacy in some form (over 80 percent).
Compensated surrogacy was more popularly supported than altruistic, though the difference was not statistically significant.
Among the Swedish sample, the majority believed Swedes should be allowed to engage in surrogacy in their home country (89 percent). There was also majority support for the right to access surrogacy in countries which protected women’s rights (73 percent), or had supportive surrogacy law in place (65 percent).
The Norwegian sample showed very similar results. Most believed they should be allowed to engage in either their home country (90 percent) or a foreign country which protected women’s rights (87 percent), or had supportive law in place (72 percent). While there was less support for being able to engage in any foreign country (40 percent), this support was significantly stronger than amongst Swedes.
Within both samples, there was equally high levels of support (over 70 percent) for women with a medical need (such as having no uterus) being able to access surrogacy.
Clearly, amongst Swedish and Norwegian citizens of child-rearing age, there is fairly strong support for surrogacy, where the appropriate protections are in place. Hence the socially conservative
Scandinavian public policy on surrogacy is markedly out-of-step with Swedish and Norwegian community views.
Certainly community support for social policy reform is inadequate on its own. Consideration of outcomes over time for both surrogates and children is also crucial.
Fortunately the UK’s Centre for Family Research has been following up such families in the UK for over ten years. Their investigations have consistently shown no harmful effects of surrogacy on the psychological adjustment of either the conceived children or their surrogates. Already Swedish groups are looking to invite UK surrogates to address their parliamentarians on the issue
Hopefully Scandinavian countries will start to listen to surrogates about why they choose to give couples the gift of parenthood.