For couples struggling with infertility, the dream of starting a family can seem out of reach. Surrogacy, the process of trusting a third-party with the responsibility to carry a pregnancy for another person or couple, is becoming an increasingly popular option for those unable to conceive naturally. However, as a surrogacy agency, we must recognize that while surrogacy offers hope to those facing fertility challenges, it also poses risks and ethical considerations. In this article, we’ll explore what surrogate pregnancy is, the parties involved, as well as the benefits and risks associated with this option.
Surrogate Pregnancy: What It Is
Surrogate pregnancy, also known as gestational surrogacy, is a process in which a woman (the surrogate mother) carries a pregnancy for another person or couple (the intended parents). This is done in the well-established framework of a contractual relationship that protects the rights of the both parties, as well as the rights of the newborn.
In most cases, the surrogate mother is not biologically related to the child she carries. Instead, an embryo is created using the intended parents’ or donors’ eggs and sperm, which are then implanted into the surrogate’s uterus. The surrogate mother carries the pregnancy to term, giving birth to a child that she will not raise as her own.
This last aspect is contractually defined, as surrogacy involves a compensation paid to the surrogate mother by the intended parent(s). There are other ethical aspects to this contractual relationship and the responsibility accepted by the surrogate not to cause psychological harm to the intended parent(s) by backing out of the contract as her pregnancy approaches its term.
Three Parties Involved
There are typically three parties involved in a surrogate pregnancy: the intended parents, the surrogate mother, and the surrogacy agency/fertility clinic that oversees the process from start to finish. The intended parents are the individuals or couple who will ultimately raise the child. They may be the biological parents, using their own eggs and sperm, or donor eggs, sperm, or embryos.
In California and some other US states, the right of a single individual, or of 2 same-sex individuals to enter into a contract with a surrogate mother is established by law. The legal framework surrounding surrogacy varies from state to state, and from country to country. Some countries have banned surrogate pregnancy altogether.
The surrogate mother is the woman who carries the pregnancy. She may be a family member or friend of the intended parents, or she may be a professional surrogate found through a surrogacy agency. Surrogates are compensated for their time and effort. The legal framework surrounding compensation varies by state and by country.
Some surrogate mothers can be related by blood to the intended parents, which gives rise of course to other ethical and medical issues that need to be addressed before the parties enter into a contract.
The intended parents work with fertility clinics or surrogacy agencies to find a suitable surrogate mother. The surrogacy agency is a very important partner in the process as it is entrusted with the responsibility to screen and select the surrogate candidates, present the vetted candidates to the intended parents, follow the medical process in coordination with medical doctors and laboratories, establish a contract that will protect the rights of all parties and of the unborn child, and in general ensure that all parties keep to their legal obligations, including the compensation and cost reimbursement of the surrogate mother by the intended parents.
What do we call infertility? Infertility is defined as the inability to conceive after 12 months of trying for women under 35, or 6 months for women over 35. Fertility clinics are specialized medical establishments that provide a range of treatments to help individuals and couples conceive. These include in vitro fertilization (IVF), often used in surrogacy pregnancies.
Risks and Benefits
A surrogate pregnancy is not a banal medical act. It carries real risks. Surrogate mothers may experience physical and emotional challenges, including the risk of miscarriage, premature birth, and postpartum depression. Surrogate mothers can have second thoughts or regrets, and become unwilling to give the newborn child away. These risks are critical and the surrogacy contract aims at reducing or remedying these risks.
There are other legal, medical, and ethical issues surrounding surrogacy in cases where the surrogate is a family member or friend of the intended parent(s). The legal framework is critically important in this respect, as the consequences of medical errors would be devastating for all parties.
However, surrogacy also offers undeniable benefits. It provides hope for couples struggling with infertility, enabling them to experience the joy of parenthood outside of the boundaries of adoption. Surrogacy can also be a way for same-sex couples or individuals to start a family.
On the financial side, surrogacy can become a financial lifeline for women struggling under difficult circumstances. Surrogacy agencies will typically screen out candidates with catastrophic financial issues, but temporary financial hardships do happen. Absent any other disqualification criteria, surrogacy agencies will usually present suitable surrogate candidates with money as their prime motivation to intended parents.
The financial element of the surrogacy contract gives rise to the ethical and moral debate around the notion of commoditization of the woman’s reproductive capabilities (the “rent a belly” debate).
Surrogacy also raises the issue of the potential exploitation of vulnerable women, especially in under-developed countries where women’s rights are not as clearly established by law as in Western nations. Human trafficking is central to this debate.
In some countries, the moral and religious objections to the concept of surrogacy are so strong, the practice has been banned.
A Hope for Some, A Risk for Others
It is likely the practice of surrogacy will remain controversial. Our societies are founded on principles that only change slowly… if they ever change. The human race is a mosaic of cultures, traditions, and religious persuasions. There is no “one-world moral standard”, and human ethics is not a monolith and won’t ever be.
For intended parents desiring a child born of their genes, surrogacy is the only current option when infertility is the central issue. This option provides a hope that some would consider a human right in itself. For surrogate candidates, it offers a way to improve their future in a world where the lack of money condemns people to be disenfranchised.