A couple of days ago, a colleague asked what 2017 would hold for me, and I admitted I didn’t yet know. Only 12 months ago I was still in the final crazy preparations for my Churchill Fellowship (at this stage I was in the countdown – 12 days until departure). For most of this year, my life has returned to (almost normal) but I have carried with me the memories and learnings of my “trip of a lifetime”, travelling the world investigating the implications of international surrogacy.
So, I have found myself reflecting on the changes that have occurred in international surrogacy since this time last year. Just over 12 months ago, India signalled her clear message that the surrogacy industry in that country was closed for business for foreigners. Thailand and Nepal had done the same in the preceding months. A few days before I departed (15/12/15), Mexico did the same, changing laws which had previously permitted foreigners to undertake surrogacy arrangements there. And now, as we find ourselves at the end of 2016, despite the rapid rise of Cambodia as a new destination for international surrogacy, legislation was recently implemented there that outlawed surrogacy arrangements. Across many of these locations, families are still in limbo regrading what future fertility treatment they might be able to undertake, and even whether or not they have access to their previously created embryos. For many of these families, the dream of having a child is even more distant than it was before they embarked on an international surrogacy journey.
The question I am still often asked is whether or not international surrogacy is a good idea. Should anyone explore this as an option for family creation? The answer I give now has certainly been altered by my Fellowship experience. As part of my Fellowship I also visited the USA and Russia ( in addition to investigating the processes of Mexico, Cambodia and India) to explore the way in which surrogacy is managed in those locations. What I saw there (particaulry in the USA) was mostly well organised and ethical management of surrogacy arrangements. I saw examples of commercial surrogacy arrangements which appeared to respect the commissioning families, the surrogates and the children who were born as a result of these arrangements. Admittedly, I also saw evidence of surrogacy done badly, but this was often in the laps of “fly by night” providers. However, this article, published in The Age, (while clearly sensational in it’s editorial style), again demonstrates the exploitative nature of surrogacy in many third world countries, and why the Cambodian surrogacy industry was always destined to implode. http://www.theage.com.au/world/innocence-lost-in-the-barren-lands-of-asias-baby-farmers-20161207-gt5rdp.html
Sally* is three months old now, living in a brand new double-storey house in a quiet street in a southern Melbourne suburb with her biological father, XXXXXX XXXXXX.
Almost 7000 kilometres away, in a decrepit squatters’ settlement on the outskirts of the Cambodian capital, her illiterate birth mother Hour Vanny doesn’t know where the baby is or even her name.
There can be no doubt that the experience for surrogates in places like Cambodia compared to developed countries such as the USA is worlds apart. The difference in experience for commissioning families and their babies can be enormous in different countries. My Fellowship made me reconsider international surrogacy and see that there can be times where traveling overseas to undertake a surrogacy can work well, and doesn’t necessarily cause harm to any party. However, one aspect of my attitude towards international surrogacy is unchanged. I would say to any person considering international surrogacy, if you can do the process at home in Australia, with a surrogate you know and trust, it is far and away the best option. Surrogacy in Australia is generally done well. The treatment is safe and all parties are well protected. Everyone has an opportunity to understand and accept their legal rights and obligations, and the counselling is thorough for all parties. It is pretty close to impossible to undertake a surrogacy in Australia and not be fully aware of the risks as well as the benefits. To travel overseas for surrogacy? The shiny image of medical tourism doesn’t always equal the reality of treatment in a faraway place.
I do wonder what 2017 will bring…