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Why the UK is updating its laws on surrogacy and gamete donation

WHengjin CottonWhen a young British woman conceived and gave birth to a baby for an anonymous couple in 1985, it sent the chills down the spine of many Brits. Ms Cotton was artificially inseminated by the intended father, who paid £6,500 ($9,353). “Born to Sell,” read one of the headlines. “Sell the rugs and drapes,” another (Ms. Cotton and her husband reportedly used some of the cash to decorate their house). Shocked lawmakers hastily passed the Surrogacy Arrangements Act, which bans commercial surrogacy and regulates unpaid surrogacy.

While the number of British babies born this way is still small, it has risen from fewer than 100 a year two decades ago to more than 400 a year today. Surrogacy, if not without controversy, has become socially accepted in ways that were once unimaginable. That’s partly because it’s now often a “gestational” type, meaning the surrogate isn’t the baby’s biological mother (like Ms. Cotton was), but is implanted with a fertilized egg from the intended mother or donor. However, surrogacy is also increasingly being tolerated, as baby-making in the UK has become entirely less traditional.

This is partly due to an increase in same-sex couple households. The 2014 legalization of same-sex marriage brought major changes to families, starting with adoption. The number of same-sex couple households increased by 40 per cent to 212,000 between 2015 and 2019. In 2022, 540 of England’s 2,950 adoptions (more than one in six) will be of same-sex couples (only 3% of adults identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual). Gay couples play a disproportionately important role in housing children in care.

However, most people who want children want children, and there are too few children whose needs can be met in the long run. A law passed in 2014 allows same-sex couples to apply for “parental orders,” whereby the intended parents in a surrogacy arrangement assume legal parenthood.For Gay Men Like Ellen White, Surrogacy Board ChairU.K., a nonprofit organization, that represented sea change. He said his desire to have children, combined with “social norms surrounding family,” was one of the reasons he didn’t come out until his 20s.

At the same time, advances in technology and medicine have transformed the broader fertility landscape. In vitro fertilization means that babies can now be created by three parties – two providing the gametes and the other carrying the fertilized egg – allowing gay men and infertile men to start having children. Egg freezing and other technological advances have also allowed single women to delay childbearing and undertake it alone. (Surrogacy groups say they are seeing more and more single men wanting babies, but the numbers are still low.) All of this is fueling a boom in the fertility market: The Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (blast furnace), a regulator said 60% of fertility services are now paid for privately.

As a result, the rules of some of the highly regulated surrogacy and fertility clinics in the UK look outdated.this blast furnace The way it sells fertility services to patients, as well as some aspects of sperm and egg donation, is being reviewed; it will submit recommendations later this year. In March, the Law Commission (which reviews UK legislation) published recommendations to update surrogacy laws. Both regulators want surrogacy and gamete donation to remain “altruistic” (meaning they cannot be profitable). But other variations are also possible.

In particular, the committee proposed scrapping parental orders for babies born in the UK and replacing them with applications by intended parents to have legal rights to their children from birth. The current system takes too long: Parents often take home a surrogate baby immediately, but can wait up to a year to become legal parents. This can cause anxiety for everyone (the surrogate may change her mind and keep the baby; the parents may also reconsider or become unable to care for the child). Mr. White and his husband have a five-month-old boy who remains the legal child of the surrogate and her husband (who has no biological or any other relationship to the baby).

In order for parents to have legal rights from birth, they and their surrogates should undergo screening and protection checks overseen by non-profit surrogacy organisations, the Law Commission said. blast furnace. To allay concerns about a surrogate’s rights, there should be six weeks after delivery where the surrogate can apply for a parental order herself if she changes her mind. The proposal has been widely welcomed, although some fear it will make it difficult for surrogates to keep the baby if they choose to. Others argue that the six-week period is unnecessary because surrogates rarely reconsider.

Natalie Gamble, Co-Director NGA A bigger problem, says Law, which specializes in fertility cases, is that the change will not cover babies born through overseas surrogacy (it is estimated that around a third of UK surrogate babies are born abroad). One of the main reasons parents use overseas surrogates is the shortage of surrogate mothers in the UK. Those who can afford it often go to the United States, where the federal government does not regulate surrogacy. Commercial surrogacy is now banned in a growing number of developing countries, including India, and most European countries (although Ukraine was already a big market before the Russian invasion).

Ms Gamble said British women might consider it if the surrogate was compensated. Currently, the guidelines say they may be paid “reasonably incurred costs”, which usually add up to around £15,000. It’s nothing, especially for stay-at-home moms. No court has ever refused to grant a parental order because the cost seemed a bit high (because it meant taking the baby away from the parents). The Law Commission said that in addition to allowing compensation, the law should also clarify what expenses are permissible to ensure surrogate mothers are treated fairly and do not risk being exploited.

Fear of exploitation is why the UK has decided to keep surrogacy altruistic: when money is involved, there is more potential for coercion. Michael Johnson-Ellis, co-founder of the nonprofit My Surrogacy Journey, said commercialization will inevitably lead to the involvement of for-profit third parties such as lawyers and agencies, making surrogacy beyond the reach of many. (Surrogating a baby can cost as much as $200,000 in the U.S., thanks to lawyers, agencies and clinics.) He hopes better regulation and some advertising (a change suggested by the Law Commission; previously banned) will encourage more women Consider becoming a surrogate mother.

Children created through double gamete donation (where both a donor’s sperm and an egg are used, meaning the intended parents are not biologically related to the child) are subject to an adoption order, the Law Commission said. Adoption orders are stricter than parental orders or the system that will replace them. In a consultation ahead of the report, some experts expressed concern that relaxing such requirements for babies not genetically related to intended parents would commoditize babies. Mr Johnson-Ellis said the Law Commission’s decision effectively discriminated against infertile people.

In the broader field of fertility, gamete donation creates far more babies than surrogacy: more than 4,000 per year, according to estimates. blast furnace. This number could be much higher. Guidelines state that donors may not support families of more than ten; the low-tech sperm donations many lesbian couples and single mothers use to have children mean no one is counting.

this blast furnace said it would also not support a compensation system as part of its review. But it is considering changing the rules around anonymity for egg and sperm donors, potentially allowing children to learn about their biological parents soon after birth if the donors agree. In 2005, the law was changed to prohibit anonymity, meaning that when children turn 18, they can request information about their biological parents. The first children to be affected by the law turned 18 this year.

Nina Barnsley, Director, Donor Conception Networkdigital communication network), a charity noted that the UK was at the forefront of banning anonymity: in the years since, DNA Testing has exposed it as a false promise. There’s plenty of research showing that children who know how they were conceived — and, once they’re older, by whom — are psychologically better off. The UK should create a surrogacy register that would help children track the women who gave birth to them when they grow up, the Law Commission said.

Those who work in the surrogacy and gamete donation fields disagree on some things, notably whether and how surrogates and donors should be paid. However, with more and more children growing up in non-traditional homes, all agree on the importance of transparency. The case of Kim Cotton shows the damage that secrecy can do. “I’ll regret it for the rest of my life because I don’t know who they are,” she said of the parents who paid for her children. “I try not to think about it now, but I always remember her birthday.”

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