We have reported often on the global baby markets of eggs for sale and wombs for rent. In addition to these topics, we must add consciousness of the growing baby markets fueled by reproductive tourism industry to our ethical reflection.
Reproductive tourism happens because laws vary from country to country and state to state. Some countries prohibit the buying of eggs and /or the renting of wombs. Other countries allow it but with various forms of regulations. For example, in the state of Colorado, anonymous egg and sperm selling is no longer permitted. Some have suggested removing anonymity cuts into the market as the vendor’s providing gametes and the purchasers of their gametes don’t want children born of these transactions to have access to or knowledge of their biological parents. Where Spain does not allow surrogacy in any form (altruistic or commercial), it does allow women to sell their eggs. But the Spanish are allowed to travel internationally to rent wombs, and their children will be recognized as citizens of Spain upon birth. Like Spain, Italy doesn’t permit surrogacy but allows women to truly donate their eggs – no payment. Prime minister Meloni has recently made news stating that she wants to criminalize international reproductive tourism to prevent Italians from traveling from Italy to hire surrogates to bear their children. This hodge podge of international laws exacerbates the many problems involving the exploitation of women and children that arise in commercial third-party baby making.
The boom in business in Ukraine came about the same time India changed their laws on surrogacy. When India, known for cheap “labor”, banned transnational surrogacy for same-sex couples in 2012 and then in 2015 banned transnational surrogacies for all intended parents, it was then that Ukraine became a destination for people looking for cheap “labor.” Where a surrogate pregnancy in the U.S. may cost upwards of $150,000 for a single baby, the Ukraine offers surrogacy for a third of the price.
Ukraine’s laws also protect the intended parents whose name will be on the birth certificate at the time of the baby’s birth. Many countries, like Germany, and states like Texas, recognize the woman who gave birth as the legal mother, which requires additional costs and time to go through a formal adoption process. These two things, costs and avoiding adopting the baby, caused surrogacy to rise in Ukraine, where those extra steps are circumvented entirely.
Many of you will recall the images of the babies housed in hotels, lined up on rows, being attended to by women because intended parents from various countries were not able to travel to Ukraine to collect their children. Covid travel bans were the first cause, and then when the war broke out in Ukraine, more surrogates were left facing difficult decisions about leaving their homes for safety or staying in precarious situations to be close to their fertility agency and the hospital where they were to deliver.
Simone is one intended mother from Europe who tells about her surrogate in Ukraine who was carrying her and her husband’s twins. She states they had already had “three failed attempts with three different surrogates, the fourth embryo transfer in mid-2021 had finally been successful.” The surrogate was not surprisingly having pregnancy complications and had left her home in a rural area to seek medical treatment in Kyiv. This agency had offered the surrogates in contract with them to move to safer parts in the country but Simone’s surrogate wished to stay in Kyiv and deliver the twins there. This caused an entanglement of rights between the surrogate and her autonomy and the intended parents who had paid her to have their children. In the end, the surrogate stayed in Kyiv but Simone said, “I would have preferred it if she had left.”
With the Covid pandemic bringing lockdowns and travel bans and then the war, all parties have been left scrambling for solutions for how to protect the surrogates and the babies they carry until they can be picked up by their intended parents. Some surrogates have been “threatened with nonpayment of their fees or even legal consequences” for noncompliance of the wishes of the intended parents or their agencies. In Simone’s case, she abided by her surrogate’s desire to remain in Kyiv.
Anika Konig reports that because of the war in Ukraine “many agencies moved their operations to other Eastern European countries, especially Georgia.” But it should come as no surprise that business is booming again in war torn Ukraine. Just Google “find a surrogate in Ukraine”. We already knew the poor women and the children they bear don’t matter. But it appears saving money seems to matter more than even war.
We have just learned that Ukrainian politicians from President Zelensky’s party are seeking to pass a law that would shut down surrogacy clinics geared toward foreigners. Learn more here…
- Jennifer Lahl, MA, BSN, RN, is founder and president of The Center for Bioethics and Culture Network. Lahl couples her 25 years of experience as a pediatric critical care nurse, a hospital administrator, and a senior-level nursing manager with a deep passion to speak for those who have no voice. Lahl’s writings have appeared in various publications including Cambridge University Press, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Dallas Morning News, and the American Journal of Bioethics. As a field expert, she is routinely interviewed on radio and television including ABC, CBS, PBS, and NPR. She is also called upon to speak alongside lawmakers and members of the scientific community, even being invited to speak to members of the European Parliament in Brussels to address issues of egg trafficking; she has three times addressed the United Nations during the Commission on the Status of Women on egg and womb trafficking.