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Ireland’s first ever commercial surrogacy conference took place last week in Dublin. (It also dealt with 'altruistic' surrogacy). The event was organised by a group called “Families through Surrogacy” which call itself a non-profit group. However, the conference sponsors, variously categorised as “platinum”, “gold” and “silver” sponsors, are composed of big surrogacy firms from the U.S. and Canada, as well as Irish law firms that specialise in surrogacy law. Each of these companies were given a platform to pitch their services to the 120 or so attendees. Aside from a few individuals interested in the topic from the perspective of public policy, the attendees were potential customers: straight couples, gay couples and individuals.
I am simply going to report on what was said, rather than comment. That can come later.
The event began with the convener telling us that the conference would start off with a balanced panel: a speaker from a straight couple balanced by a speaker from a gay couple. The initial panel was composed of three men. These panellists talked about their personal experiences of availing of surrogacy abroad and bringing the children back to Ireland. Draft surrogacy legislation prepared by Alan Shatter (shelved for the moment) was praised, and attendees were encouraged to put pressure on politicians to give surrogacy a secure legal footing in Ireland.
Dr. Kim Bergman, of the U.S. based “Growing Generations” began her presentation by referencing Mothers Day and how many in the audience may well be mothers in the near future. She acknowledged that she did have some ethical concerns about how surrogacy is practiced in “some” countries. She told the conference that the surrogate mothers used by her company don’t refuse to have a “reduction” (i.e. an abortion) if “that’s what’s needed”.
Dr. Said Daneshmand of the “Fertility Center of Las Vegas” spoke next. He explained how his company screens embryos for conditions like Down Syndrome – these embryos are discarded because only the “best quality” embryos are used. He also explained that his company do ‘gender selection’ of embryos too. (Later in the day, Craig Reisser of “Oregon Reproductive Medicine” told delegates that his company provides a similar gender selection service.)
Karen Synesiou of the “Center for Surrogate Parenting” admitted that in many countries where commercial surrogacy is banned there is a need to “get creative” when paying “reasonable expenses” to the surrogate mother. She specifically alluded to paying the surrogate mother’s rent, car repair and even spa treatments.
Andrew Vorzimer of the “Fertility and Family Law Centre” reassured attendees that U.S. law is completely compliant with surrogacy arrangements. Even before the baby is born the birth certificate will be finalised to represent whoever the intending parents are: two dads, single dad or whoever. He also referenced the practice of aborting surrogate children and how it is important that parties to the contract reach “full agreement” on this issue.
Cindy Wasser of “Hope Springs Fertility Law” told the audience that she was “so proud” of how ‘tolerant’ her home country (Canada) is, and how there you can begin a surrogacy pregnancy as a woman and end as a man. Like the U.S., Canadian law is very compliant: you “will be on the birth certificate”, even if you are a single man, and there will be “no mention” of the surrogate mother or the egg and sperm donor (who are the biological mother and father of the child).
Stephanie White from “Canadian Fertility Consulting” outlined how surrogacy “expenses” in Canada usually amount to around €55,000 and that it takes only between 2-6 weeks for a surrogate mother to be found after the intending (commissioning) parent(s) complete their biographical profile.
The legal advice provided by a number of Irish practitioners seemed to agree that there were no significant barriers to Irish citizens going abroad to procure a child via commercial surrogacy and then returning home. This is despite the fact that planned Irish legislation is supposed to prohibit commercial surrogacy. The Irish firms present informed audience members that they were very willing to help with their surrogacy plans.
In private conversation at the end of the conference the convener explained that every price given during the day should be multiplied by 1.5 as surrogacy companies tend to omit expenses that will be incurred (such as likely second or third cycles of IVF, as well as domestic legal fees). He also told of how in India and Ukraine babies are taken straight from the surrogate mother in case she forms an attachment to them.