Last weekend Walter went to a conference held by Surrogacy UK at a hotel in Northamptonshire. He was there to talk about DC Network but came away really impressed with the event and with their model of bringing together women willing to be surrogates and intending parents (IPs).
For those inside and outside the UK who have no idea about the rules regarding surrogacy in the UK, it is illegal to advertise for a surrogate mother and also illegal to pay a woman anything more than her actual receipted expenses incurred as a result of pregnancy and childbirth. Whether or not she is carrying a child conceived using her own egg, that of the intending mother or an egg donor, the surrogate mother is considered the ‘mother’ at the time of the birth of the child until a court order is made transferring parenthood to the intending parents (at least one of whom has to be genetically connected to the child).
Because of the ban on advertising for surrogates it is difficult for intending parents to find someone willing to carry a child for them…and this is where Surrogacy UK gets creative. This organisation was actually started by surrogates rather than prospective parents and the ‘power balance’ if you like, has remained that way. At events, like this conference, but more focused meetings as well, surrogates and intending parents come together to meet and find matches that feel right for both parties. Before they decide to work together there will be many meetings between the IPs, the surrogate and her whole family and it is the surrogate who has the final say about agreeing to carry a child for the couple. A close relationship usually develops between the two families and in many cases the surrogate becomes an important person in the life of the child as he or she grows up. This feels to me as far from the picture of inevitable exploitation that surrogacy suggests to some people, that it is possible to get.
It can be hard to get ones head round the idea that there are some women who genuinely like being pregnant and are willing to give the best part of a year of their life to helping someone else realise their dream of a family, but it appears to be so. This is not baby farming in India, nor taking advantage of poor women in Eastern Europe but genuine altruism by those who enter into an agreement as partners.
The event Walter attended had around 300 adult participants at every stage of the process, including those already with children, plus many children from the families of the surrogates. All were mixing together, mostly staying in the same hotel, going to sessions on different topics and socialising in the evening and over the whole weekend.
The picture is not completely rosy of course. Money remains an issue and there are those in the UK who would like a clear and stated price payment for surrogacy services (to include expenses) as in the US. As it is here money sometimes changes hands in brown paper bags and it is difficult to trace if pressure is being brought to bear on either surrogate or intending parent. But by and large this model works.
Could it possibly be then that this could be the future of gamete donation? Intending parents and donors brought together to choose each other and remain in each other’s lives? It’s hard to imagine at the moment with so much resistance to acknowledging the role of the donor but with the sea change in openness over the last ten years or so, who knows what the future might bring. Not in my lifetime probably but Walter and I have fantasised about and predicted this scenario for a long time and seeing it in action at the weekend gave us much food for thought. I’d be interested to know what you think?