SurrogacyIndia’s focus is in fertility, not infertility. Making babies, is possible. ‘Possible’ is what we believe in.


Friday, November 7, 2014

Why It's Time To Talk About Surrogacy

Not every couple can conceive. Not every couple can adopt or use IVF. Sign our petition to review surrogacy laws

In the spare room of their modest Canberra home, Jen Daniels, 27, and her partner Steve Dunne, 34, keep a precious cardboard box. Inside, are a couple of tiny jumpsuits, a Scooby Doo toy they won on an overseas trip and a range of motivational fertility quotes. “Sometimes it makes me sad,” Jen, a childcare worker, says of the box, “but mostly it keeps me focused to keep trying for a baby.”

Three years ago, after a decade of crippling endometriosis, Jen was forced to have a hysterectomy. At a time when her friends were starting families, she lost her only chance to create one herself. “I had always thought of myself as having kids,” says Jen, “even when I was a kid myself.”

One in six Australian couples suffers infertility. But, for women like Jen who want a child, but are unable to carry a pregnancy they have three options: acceptance, adoption, or surrogacy. For many, the first is unpalatable, the second unachievable—(just 184 children* were adopted in Australia last year, with the average waiting time five years)—and the third unbearably complex.

Before Jen’s surgery, she and Steve had created four embryos and have decided to look for a surrogate in Australia. The hurdles are many: laws differ in each state; and factoring in mandatory legal advice and psychological counselling, along with medical expenses, intended parents are out of pocket an average of $40,000—sometimes much more. But the biggest hurdle of all? They have to find a woman willing to carry their baby for nine months out of the goodness of her heart, as paying for a surrogate is illegal. “Instead of buying a house, we’re going to continue renting so that we can save for surrogacy,” says Jen. “We will have kids. We’ll work it out.”

The couple is hopeful. But the truth is that fewer than 20 per cent of those who search for a so-called altruistic surrogate in Australia will find one.

Altruistic surrogacy — where there is no financial gain to the surrogate, but expenses incurred in pregnancy and birth are covered— is legal in Australia, but mired in a complex tangle of state laws. Commercial surrogacy — where women are paid to carry and give birth to babies on behalf of other women — is illegal. As a result, Australian couples have been flocking overseas, to countries like Thailand and India to take advantage of booming commercial surrogacy industries, where an agent is paid a fee, a proportion of which — ranging from $7,000 to $12,000 — goes to the surrogate.

But then came the Baby Gammy scandal. In June, a Thai surrogate who had carried twins for a man who turned out to be a convicted Australian paedophile, revealed that the man had abandoned one of the babies because the boy had Down Syndrome. He had taken home only the healthy twin. In the face of international outrage, Thailand’s military government shut that country’s largely unregulated industry down, leaving many couples in legal, financial and emotional limbo.

Other popular paths for intended parents have their own problems. In India, where surrogacy is a billion dollar business, fertility clinics have scared off many hopeful Australians with hidden costs, unethical practices and an undercurrent of exploitation. Similarly, while commercial surrogacy in many states of the US is legal, it is prohibitively pricey for many.

That leaves Australia, where “altruistic” surrogacy is paradoxically expensive and notoriously difficult to navigate.

In August this year, a team of fertility experts called on the Australian government to reconsider its stance on paid surrogacy. Their report, published by the medical journal of Australia concluded: “the high proportion of intended parents using overseas instead of domestic surrogacy arrangements shows that Australian public policy in this area is failing.”

With infertility on the rise, surrogates in demand, and the laws a postcode lottery, marie claire asks, is it time for Australia to rethink its approach?

If you think so, please sign our petition calling on the government to review surrogacy laws.

To read the rest of our story on surrogacy - including interviews with women who have used surrogates or are searching for surrogates - in our December issue, on sale now.


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