The ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic will be with us for some time yet, even in advent of new vaccines. This is because the vaccines are going to take some time to roll out effectively until we reach the promised land of herd immunity. One area of COVID-19 impact that gets relatively little attention in the press is international surrogacy. The restrictions on international travel because of the pandemic have prevented parents from getting to the births of their surrogate children. It has also stopped travel for the purposes of conception.
Exception to travel bans for intended parents
This situation led governments to make exceptions on travel bans for parents who needed to join their surrogate children. For instance, in the UK the government created a new emergency passport application process to help British parents bring their surrogate babies home. Now, the UK’s Human Fertility and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has confirmed that it will update its guidance on exporting gametes and embryos. In essence, UK fertility clinics will no longer need to ask intended parents whether they intend to compensate their surrogate or use a paid surrogacy agency.
UK Surrogacy grows in popularity
This is good news for those UK parents who need to send sperm or embryos overseas for surrogacy, while they are unable to travel themselves. It is important because international surrogacy is growing in popularity in the UK, with the Family Court making around 200 parental orders per year, a figure thought to be underestimated.
University of Cambridge/Brilliant Beginnings research* suggests the increase in international surrogacy as a popular option for UK parents are:
- Lack of professional services for matching in the UK (69%)
- Lack of legal certainty within the UK that intended parents would ultimately be the legal parents of their child (67%)
- Shortage of UK surrogates (40%).
Reform of UK Surrogacy law
Yet international surrogacy is often portrayed negatively in the UK. The UK Law Commission’s published recommendations for reform of UK surrogacy law last year. That stated, “We hope that one of the consequences of our reform of UK law will be to reduce the incidence of international surrogacy arrangements.”
UK intended parents look overseas
Disappointingly, this does not demonstrate much understanding of why many UK parents feel they have no alternative other than to look overseas. The issues with regard to homegrown surrogacy in the UK seems to be that:
- There are few safeguards at the start of the surrogacy process to ensure that surrogates are suitable or give fully informed consent.
- Many matches happen informally via social media.
- The legal process takes place entirely after the birth.
Supreme Court ruling
These question marks are less of an issue in many countries, which have long-established procedures for surrogacy such as the USA. With that in mind the UK Supreme Court has ruled that it is no longer against public policy for UK parents to engage in commercial surrogacy. They stipulate that the country in question has a well-established system, which properly safeguards the interests of all involved.
Clearly, the HFEA’s update is a small step in the right direction to the increasingly important issue of international surrogacy.
*Brilliant Beginnings is a non-profit professional surrogacy agency based in the UK. They support intended parents, surrogates and professionals.