Crisis for new parents of surrogate babies

As mentioned in our previous story, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) highlighted potential issues for would-be parents utilising surrogacy services in the US.

Specifically, ASRM concerns related to travel arrangements. This was for all the relevant parties in the midst of restrictions imposed by government management of the COVID19 epidemic.

UK couple stuck in US

The warnings were prescient and timely. As reported in The Guardian (UK), a UK couple utilising surrogacy services in the US have found themselves stuck there. Bureaucracy is confounded by the epidemic. Unfortunately, they are now among many people unable to get documents for their newborns.

James (left) and Rob (right) with their newborn son in Portland, Oregon.

Photo credit: Amanda Lucier/The Guardian.

The plight of  the couple, James Washington and his husband Bob, highlights the problem. Since last week James has been trying to get a passport for his newborn son. The baby was born via a surrogate in the US.

But there is a problem. Due to coronavirus, the US authorities are only issuing passports for life-or-death emergencies, everyone else has to wait! And so, James, Rob, and their 11-day-old baby find themselves stuck in an Airbnb in Portland, Oregon.

Catch-22

Under normal circumstances, the family would have applied for a US passport for their son, taken him home and then applied for a parental order through the UK courts.  But since they cannot now get the US passport, the UK passport office will not issue emergency travel documents as UK law does not yet recognise their son as a UK citizen.

Technically, the baby’s surrogate mother and her husband continue to remain his legal custodians.

James, talking to The Guardian said, “We are stuck.”

The Washington’s are not the only parents to have made use of the US’s somewhat relaxed surrogacy laws. And not the only ones to be trapped by the government response to the COVID19 epidemic.

Other couple’s stuck in US

Robin Pope,  Oregon family lawyer and assisted reproduction specialist said, “There are hundreds of families currently stuck, or about to be stuck, in the US right now because of coronavirus.”

According to her list there are 21 babies like this currently stuck in limbo in the US. There are also more than 100 expected to be born via surrogate in the coming months.

British parents of children born via surrogate abroad can make an application to the UK Home Office for a British nationality registration. This entitles the child to emergency travel documentation, but this process can take up to six months. As a result, surrogacy agencies have now written to Priti Patel, UK Home Secretary. They are asking her to look into making emergency travel documents available to these babies.

Another solution would be for the US passport office to re-designate this unique situation as an emergency. With that in mind, Pope has been working with Oregon senator Ron Wyden to get the US passport office to issue an exemption for children born via surrogacy, so that their parents can get them back home.

Issue of healthcare

One of the problems that families might encounter if they are stuck in the US for an extended period is the predatory private healthcare system in operation in the US.

Pope said, “The way our healthcare system works, you need to be resident to get health insurance. If any of them were to get sick, that would be an enormous problem.” And, obviously, the chances of getting sick in the midst of a pandemic are quite high.

Travel insurance, which normally covers visitors for health issues for discrete periods of time, is unlikely to be valid because of the unforeseen extended stay. Also, many governments are now advising their citizens against international travel.

The situation has created something of a bureaucratic nightmare, which is beyond the control of families like the Washington’s. They have booked a return flight for early April, but the way the bureaucratic impasse is going they are unlikely to be able to utilise it.

Meanwhile, as they wait in hope for the US passport office to reopen, their 29-year-old surrogate has been pumping breast milk for their son. James said, “As we’re social distancing, we do doorstep pickups of the milk only. It’s hugely tough.”