The landscape for opportunities to bring up a family through surrogacy and egg donation in the UK has changed - though not as fast as it has internationally. We live in a globalised world in which commercial surrogacy is a reality. If parents cannot build their family in the UK, they will, and do, look abroad to countries like India, the Ukraine and the USA which provide commercial surrogacy and egg donation services.
We at Natalie Gamble Associates have been pressing for a better framework for UK surrogacy for some time. It is naive to think — as the authors of the Warnock Report hoped in the 1980s — that a restrictive legal climate in the UK will make surrogacy 'wither on the vine'. Instead, all it does is drive parents overseas to less regulated jurisdictions and create a process that is fraught with pointless anxiety and unnecessary cost.
And 30 years on from Warnock, surrogacy has proved less likely to end in conflict than was feared. Surrogates do not regularly decide to keep the babies they carry. In reality, the 'protection' the law gives to birth mothers is almost never wanted by surrogates, and is not in the best interests of newborn children whose new parents are labelled legal strangers (1,2).
Payments to surrogates are often thought to be the trickiest issue for any review of law and policy, but perhaps it is not as difficult as it seems. The reality is that commercial surrogacy is already allowed in the UK. The High Court now routinely authorises payments for surrogacy in international cases (we recently acted in a case where the UK court authorised an exceptional payment of $56,750 plus expenses to a US surrogate (3)). Even domestically, COTS, a UK voluntary surrogacy organisation, has for many years routinely recommended that parents pay £15,000 to UK surrogates and this now seems to be the widely accepted amount for reasonable expenses. When you compare that to the amounts paid to US surrogates of, typically, $20,000 to $30,000, you start to wonder what all the fuss is about.
The truth is that the UK already allows payments for surrogacy, and has done for many years - it is simply time we admitted it. The key is to avoid exploitation, and that can be addressed by ensuring that surrogates are fully informed, counselled and advised in advance about all the risks and implications, so that they make a valid choice. Openness and clarity must be at forefront of their decision-making process.
There are some exceptional surrogacy support organisations in the UK which operate through the efforts of committed volunteers (such as Surrogacy UK). But the law restricts proper resourcing for agencies, limits advertising (which in a global market means that foreign providers overshadow UK providers), prohibits enforceable agreements and defers any legal process until after the child is born. This is clearly an impractical and unwieldy approach. Surrogacy is a sensitive exercise in human collaboration and those involved need advice, information and support before they go into a surrogacy arrangement.
A new non-profit making UK surrogacy and egg donation agency, Brilliant Beginnings, has just been launched by the team at Natalie Gamble Associates. Brilliant Beginnings will help create UK families through surrogacy and egg donation, and will reinvest resources into campaigns to promote change and raise awareness.
We have now worked with over 400 families created through donor conception and surrogacy in 30 different countries and we know that parents (and surrogates/egg donors) are often overwhelmed with information and do not know where to start or who to trust. Our role at Brilliant Beginnings is to help them build families not just legally, ethically and responsibly, but also with the right information from the start and the practical back up.
Brilliant Beginnings will offer 'first port of call' advice on all the global options, recommending safe existing providers in the UK and abroad, and providing honest information about the risks, costs and implications of international surrogacy. It will also offer professional matching of parents and egg donors/surrogates in the UK, as well as practical and emotional support to parents and surrogates/egg donors and the management of US surrogacy arrangements to facilitate parents' work with reputable agencies and professionals and to ensure they manage all the UK requirements.
Surrogacy and egg donation can be a positive and enriching form of family building for everyone (most importantly the child), if it is handled responsibly, with care, respect and the fully informed consent of everyone involved, and with proper thought about the long term implications (including openness with the child about how they have been conceived).
We want to raise awareness among women who may be willing to help create families through surrogacy and egg donation, and make the process easier for them, giving their life-changing gift the recognition it deserves. And we want to improve law and practice.
Brilliant Beginnings will be campaigning for change. There have been some positive steps forward in recent years which we have been proud to be involved in — such as the introduction of maternity leave for parents through surrogacy and the review of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority's guidance on surrogacy. But there is more to do. We want to see intended parents recognised as legal parents from birth where the surrogate mother consents. We want to see an end to discrimination against single intended parents. And we want to make a practical difference to the experience of children born into these arrangements on the ground.
Please support us by getting in touch.