The issues surrounding human surrogacy

What is surrogacy?

Surrogacy is when an embryo is placed in the uterus (womb) of a host (or surrogate) mother. The surrogate’s eggs may have been used, or she may have no genetic link to the baby she is carrying. Shortly after birth, the baby will be handed over to the couple who are going to raise it. There are two types of surrogacy:

  1. Traditional surrogacy (also known as partial surrogacy) - this is when the eggs of the surrogate mother are used. They may be fertilised using donor sperm or the sperm of the commissioning male partner (ie the man who wishes to be a father).
  2. Gestational surrogacy (also known as full surrogacy) - this form of surrogacy does not use the surrogate’s own eggs and she will have no genetic link to the baby she is carrying. An embryo is created through IVF, then implanted in the uterus (the woman’s womb).

Surrogacy is legal in the UK if it is carried out for altruistic reasons. This means a woman is not a surrogate for financial gain, but because she wants to help a childless couple to have a baby. She can, however, be paid expenses during pregnancy to cover the cost of maternity clothes, transport for medical appointments and nutritious food.

Why are there concerns about surrogacy?

  • In some parts of the world, commercial surrogacy is legal. Many people are concerned that this involves treating a child as a commodity that can be paid for. Commercial surrogacy can also involve the exploitation of young women living in poverty.
  • Surrogacy may lead to the child having identity issues in later life, perhaps having to come to terms with up to three mothers (the surrogate, the provider of the egg and the mother raising the child) and two fathers (the provider of the sperm and the father raising the child).
  • There have been cases where the surrogate mother has bonded with the child and refused to give the baby to the commissioning couple. This has caused legal difficulties over ownership of the child.

Possible benefits of surrogacy

  • For some couples, surrogacy is their only means by which they can have a child, as IVF treatment has proved unsuccessful and they are not in a position to be able to adopt.
  • Surrogacy also offers the possibility for the baby to share the same genetic characteristics as one or both parents, unlike adoption.
  • Surrogacy can enable same-sex couples to have a child. Two men in a relationship may commission a surrogate mother, with one of them providing the sperm.