Surrogacy, Foreigners and the U.S.

From my view of Broadway on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, I see many Chinese daughters of non-Asian parents and in my apartment building I know of one family who adopted a daughter from South America. Other parents I know have traveled to Russia to bring home children and create their family.

But in this era of globalization, where the desire for children crosses national borders, there is now a reverse trend — the increasing number of foreigners coming here to arrange for a surrogate pregnancy.

“Other than the United States, only a few countries — among them India, Thailand, Ukraine and Mexico — allow paid surrogacy,” according to an article in this weekend’s New York Times. As a result, the United States is drawing affluent couples from Europe, Asia and Australia. Indeed, many large surrogacy agencies in the United States say international clients — gay, straight, married or single — provide the bulk of their business.

But for every happy ending there is the murky underside of dashed hopes and unscrupulous intermediaries.

The agencies that match intended parents and surrogates are largely unregulated, creating a marketplace where vulnerable clients yearning for a baby are easy prey. Some agencies pop up briefly, then disappear. Others have taken money that was supposed to be in escrow for the surrogate, or failed to pay the fees the money was to cover.

Numerous ethical, legal, cultural and religious issues also arise from these surrogate arrangements.

The Times article asks, “How much extra will the surrogate be paid for a cesarean section, multiple births — or loss of her uterus? What if the intended parents die during the pregnancy? How long will the surrogate abstain from sex? If she needs bed rest, how much will the intended parents pay to replace her paycheck, and cover child care and housekeeping?”

For those from abroad, getting an American-born baby home can involve tangled immigration problems. Some countries require a new birth certificate, a parental order or an adoption. Some will not accept an American birth certificate with two people of the same sex listed as the parents. Occasionally, a baby can be denied entry into the parents’ home country.

As the numbers of surrogates increase and restrictions ease, hopefully there will be many more positive experiences.  According to the Times, “many women who have had a fulfilling surrogate experience go on to carry a second, or third, child for the same couple, finding pleasure in being pregnant and conferring the gift of a child and a continuing connection with another family.”

Happy endings for everyone involved.

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