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Surrogacy and exploitation and Facebook

This is a grubby and desperately sad case, which indicates that there urgently needs to be some proper system of regulation over commercial surrogacy  (which ought not to exist at all in this country but is doing so under the guise of ‘reasonable expenses’)   This case highlights how easily someone very vulnerable, whose financial circumstances were so stretched that she couldn’t afford phone top-ups might be persuaded by what in that context is a huge amount of money.   (Here £9,000. If you are on benefits, £9,000 is a LOT of money)

Z (Surrogacy agreements : Child Arrangement Orders) 2016

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2016/34.html

 

Here a baby boy Z, was born as a result of a surrogacy arrangement in 2015.  Z’s mother X, agreed to be a surrogate for a same-sex couple A and B.  The child was the biological child of A, but the eggs were provided through an anonymous egg donor. So X was the vessel for carrying the baby, but was not a biological or genetic mother to the baby.

The surrogacy arrangement was set up through a Facebook Group.

The applicants, who are a same sex couple, were introduced to X through a Facebook surrogacy site, which was run or administered by W and others, to provide a forum for the introduction of potential surrogates and commissioning parents. Although it is the applicants’ evidence was they were not members of the forum it was through that social media site that they were introduced to X. There is no screening of either surrogate or commissioning parents and no support available other than support from others involved with the forum. This court has heard, in this case and in others, that the surrogates were paid sums of money for their expenses at what was considered to be the “going rate”; which apparently varied from about £8,000 to £15,000. This unregulated form of surrogacy means that there are on the one side vulnerable surrogates, and on the other commissioning parents who are legally unprotected from unpredictable outcomes.

 

 

A and B had had Parental Orders granted in relation to twins, born in another surrogacy arrangement through a woman V.  Within 48 hours of the orders, they began making arrangements for another child through surrogacy.

 

Here are some of the things that the Judge said about V and the way that A and B had behaved towards her

 

  1. The applicants are a same sex couple who are in a civil partnership; they are both professionals, A an academic and B works for a charity as an advisor. Socially and economically they are in a much more secure position than X and much more affluent, although by no means wealthy. They are the parents of twin boys born in June 2013 by virtue of parental orders made in January 2014 by the Family Court. Within 48 hours of those orders being granted B started to make contact online to find another surrogate.
  2. The twins are the biological children of A and a known egg donor. They were conceived as a result of IVF treatment in the same clinic in Cyprus later used for the conception of Z. The twins were carried by V, a gestational surrogate. This first surrogacy agreement and the circumstances surrounding it are relevant as the applicants’ conduct was repeated in their agreement with X. Of particular note was their attitude towards the surrogate V which was mirrored later in their attitude towards X. The applicants ‘met’ V online or on Facebook in late September 2011, they knew very little about V relying instead on the views of L who was also involved in the surrogacy forum; what they did know was that V was in the process of what they called “matching” with another couple of commissioning parents but that that agreement was breaking down. There is no evidence before me that the reason for the breakdown was explored or that the applicants were concerned about it.
  3. Once introduced the applicants and V had become further acquainted online and arranged to meet in person. As was clear from the oral evidence of the applicants to this court the purpose and focus of that, their first meeting, was to sign the surrogacy agreement. A told the court in his oral evidence that the three had met in a services area in a “restaurant off the motorway in the West Midlands” and, that at the meeting which lasted 3-4 hours, they had discussed “the agreement and who we were”. They had signed an agreement at that meeting and that had constituted “matching”.
  4. It was abundantly clear from their evidence that A and B knew very little at all about V, her circumstances or her motivation for acting as their surrogate when they signed the agreement with her. L, who gave evidence before me, knew that V was in some financial difficulty because her phone had been cut off prior to the meeting or “match”. Money and payments were an issue between the applicants and V during the pregnancy and after it; as could be seen from electronic messages exchanged between them. L said, in her written statement, that V had “money trouble” throughout the pregnancy. It was known that V had separated from her partner at the time of the “match” so it would be fair to assume that she was, at the very least, more emotionally vulnerable than she otherwise might have been but neither of the applicants appear to have given this any thought and were firmly focussed on what she would be doing for them.
  5. In his oral evidence B, who told me that he had found V’s behaviour to be too demanding just after the twins’ birth, dismissed her need for his support at the time unsympathetically describing it as being “because of her hormones”. B was unable to demonstrate any understanding or empathy for a woman who had just given birth to twins, was in hospital alone and unsupported there or at home until he was pressed to do so. L was similarly dismissive and also gave a harsh unsympathetic description of V; who was described in a similar vein by all three witnesses; L, A and B.
  6. V was characterised by all three of them as “volatile” without any thought being given as to why she might be in an emotional, still less in a vulnerable, state. When considering their evidence about V in its totality I found the applicants to be dismissive of the considerable positive contribution to their lives she had made, at considerable physical risk to herself. She was unwell for the last three months of the pregnancy and required someone to live in at the end of the pregnancy to look after her own children. In their descriptions of V as a person they were largely negative and appeared almost wholly uninterested in her, rather, it seems, they saw her primarily as a service provider to whom they had paid £12,500.
  7. The applicants complained about V demanding too much attention from them after the twins were born and handed over to them. B said that she kept texting him when she and the twins were still in hospital after the birth, and that she kept wanting him to spend time with her. Both he and A saw this as unreasonable as they wanted to be with the twins who had to remain in hospital for some time for treatment. The applicants remained on speaking terms until after the parental orders were granted and it was part of the evidence before the court when the parental orders were made that they had an agreement with V that she would remain involved for the twins’ sake. By the time of this hearing they had “fallen out with her entirely“. The terminating event was, they claim, because she had failed properly to acknowledge the children’s first birthday. I find this evidence inherently contradictory as they also claimed they had found it necessary to limit V’s involvement as they found her to be both intrusive and demanding.

When the baby was born, X did not want to hand the child over to A and B (and you might get a sense of why later on) and that then led to private law proceedings to determine where the child should live.

 

The case was decided by Ms Justice Russell, who is very experienced with surrogacy and HFEA cases.

 

Firstly, and significantly, X was cognitively assessed and was found to have difficulties in understanding things and had to be helped during the hearing.

  1. X has been assessed by Dr Willemsen as having learning difficulties, which appeared to him to be congenital. Until she was seen by him and his report prepared, it would seem that neither her family nor her partner were aware of her difficulties although she had been perceived as different from her siblings and her peers at school, and her partner told me that while he was aware she was vulnerable he did not know just how vulnerable. X is aware of what she sees as her own short-comings and, as described by Dr Willemsen, will want to please people to hide her shame and embarrassment. X has difficulty in speaking up as observed by the guardian and confirmed by Dr Willemsen. Dr Willemsen told the court in his report that on growing up she has become more aware of her difficulties and this has been accompanied by self-doubt and insecurity; to deal with this she has sought isolation and did so from her partner during the pregnancy. Dr Willemsen, who gave oral evidence, reported that X “is a vulnerable young woman who is susceptible to influence and pressure from others. She gave a few examples where she felt she had not been able to speak out loud about her thoughts and feelings to the couple who asked her to be a surrogate.”
  2. Dr Willemsen emphasised that despite her difficulties she had been able to concentrate during their meetings (with half hour breaks) and that what was not affected was her “ability to be emotionally available. She was able to relay her frustrations, as well has her love for [her son with P] and [Z]. She was able to speak as openly as she could about her life and the course of events she had found herself in.”

 

If surrogacy were properly regulated, it is hard to believe that a person such as X could have been approved as someone who really knew what she was getting into or the emotional turmoil it might cause her.  It was not that her problems were so subtle that only an expert assessment could reveal them :-

 

  1. It is striking how the applicants did not seem able to see how vulnerable X was even at this stage. The guardian was almost immediately struck by it and on her behalf her counsel pointed out how many other people have commented on her vulnerability, over and above Dr Willemsen and the intermediary. The guardian said even on their first phone call she sensed that X was lacking in confidence and that by the time she had met X and spoken to her she believed she had learning difficulties. Everyone that the guardian had spoken to in August and September when she visited the area where X lives, to assess X’s support network, all commented on her vulnerability: they included the mid-wife; P’s mother who described the X as ‘naïve and gullible‘; P, himself, spoke about “how vulnerable [X] is”; X’s step-father described her as “gullible”; her own sister described X as “very naïve”; a family friend described X as lacking confidence.

 

Do we as a society, want someone who is vulnerable, naïve and gullible, being paid money to have a baby on behalf of someone she barely knows?  Let’s look at the circumstances in which the surrogacy agreement was signed

 

Although X had agreed to act as a gestational or “host” surrogate for the applicants, the circumstances in which agreement was reached and signed by X is a matter of some concern and one that I shall return to. The agreement was one found on-line and based on overseas commercial surrogacy agreements from the USA. The provisions and regulation of commercial surrogacy in the USA do not, in any real sense or detail, mirror the supposedly altruistic and non-commercial surrogacy in the United Kingdom. It was signed by X at a fast-food outlet at or near a railway station after a brief face to face meeting lasting less than two hours. X was accompanied by her young son and a young relative, no more than eighteen years old. X’s partner did not support the surrogacy although he did not object to it; as he later told me, he did not believe that it was for him to tell X what to do with her body.

 

By the time of the hearing, in considering whether a Parental Order could be made, the Judge had to look at whether X WAS consenting (she was not) and whether if she was consenting that she was doing so on an informed basis (she was not)

 

Legal framework

  1. The HFEA s56 (6) provides that a parental order can be made if the court is satisfied that the woman who carried the child (X) has freely, and with full understanding of what was involved, agreed unconditionally to the making of the order. I have to say that, in this case, even if X had given her consent I would not be satisfied that she had done so with a full understanding of what was involved. X does not consent freely or unconditionally so neither limb of s54 (6) has been met and there is no question of a parental order ever being made.

 

Looking at the pregnancy, it seemed that initially, there was a wave of enthusiasm from both sides about the arrangements

 

From the first few days the messages on Facebook, as described by Dr Willemsen, provide an illustration of the faux-intimacy that developed between the applicants and X. As he said “fairly soon an amicable, almost euphoric, atmosphere develops between people who hardly know each other. There is a shared excitement based, probably, on two very different realities. It is easy to read a great deal into Facebook (and email) messages.” It was his view, and one I share, that X was unable to put forward her opinions, just to say that she was “totally fine” when the applicants message that they are now “matched” and “totally fine” with an agreement that she had signed, although it is clear that she could not read or understand the contract she had signed. So little were they concerned about any protection for X’s position, moreover, that the applicants never even bothered to send her a signed copy. The applicants’ sole focus was on signing an agreement. There was little, if any, evidence in their messages of interest in X herself, just as there had been little interest in V.

 

But then look at how things soured  – and squirm as you read the attitude of A and B towards the woman who was carrying a child for them and her financial circumstances.

 

  1. The level of compensation or expenses which the applicants were willing to offer was, at £9,000, at the low end of the scale that is prevalent on the online websites and forums. From evidence I heard, and from the emails and electronic messages provided to the court, it would seem that this was the figure suggested to the applicants by W before it was suggested to X. In his oral evidence B (who was responsible for most of the communication) said that he assumed X was on benefits but admitted he was not sure, did not appear interested either way and certainly took no steps to find out. This presumption would seem to indicate that he expected financially vulnerable or impoverished women to be more likely to be putting themselves forward for surrogacy.
  2. In her messages X often referred to having problems using the phone and/or the internet because she had no credit, which should have revealed something of her straitened financial circumstances and economic vulnerability but this was not a matter ever taken up by the applicants. Nor is there any evidence that they considered, at any stage, whether a need for money might affect her ability to enter freely into any agreement. As commissioning parents entering into an agreement which can and does compromise the health of the surrogate they owed her a basic duty of care and did not carry out that duty or signal that they considered they had a responsibility for her well-being other than as a healthy surrogate for their off-spring.
  3. The applicants did not consider with X, or discuss with her, what she knew or understood about her rights or legal status in respect of any child or their legal rights and status. In his oral evidence B said he assumed she would know about such things from the Facebook forum. There is no evidence before this court that they had touched on the legal and ethical considerations that arise in surrogacy at all. They had not informed themselves of what professional support may be available to assist in successful surrogacy arrangements such as implications counselling; indeed when giving his oral evidence A did not know what it was. The sums offered, by way of compensation, for “contingencies,” such as £1,000 for a hysterectomy, were wholly inadequate and can only be taken as evidence of the low value that they placed on the physical and emotional well-being of the woman who acted as their surrogate. The language used by the applicants was unequivocally the language of the market-place; “the absolute maximum we could offer for each potentially happening would be £1000″. Their approach to X was, at the very least, potentially exploitative and they did little or nothing to ameliorate it

 

 

Neither applicant, in his evidence, was able to give more than a perfunctory account of their meeting with X in March 2014 or to recall anything of what she was like as a person. The meeting in the fast-fast-food outlet, near to the railway station they had all travelled to, was very brief. There were three children present, the twins and X’s little boy and a young man not much more than a child himself, who was X’s 18 year old nephew, and who acted as a witness. From their own evidence it was clear that the applicants discussed only those aspects of the agreement about which they were concerned. X did not, could not, read or properly understand the agreement and such was their self-absorption that neither applicant noticed, and in any case they did not see fit to go through the agreement with her to reassure X, or even themselves, that she understood it. Despite promising to send her a signed copy they only emailed the “agreement” to her several months later leaving her to try to read it on her phone – she does not have a computer. It is inexplicable how the applicants could have ever considered this meeting as an acceptable way to “get to know” the woman who would carry their children and consider that they had, even in the loosest sense, “matched”.  

 

 

Remember the twins commissioned from V ? And V being cut out of the twins life afterwards? Well, as V and X had both been members of the same facebook group, they were in communication with each other.

 

  1. In planning the trip to Cyprus the applicants were concerned with their own convenience, such as A going instead of B, who had had the bulk of the contact with X. B accepted in his oral evidence that they did not discuss between themselves or consider at all how X might experience the trip or how to make it comfortable for her. In his evidence A came across as seeming to believe that X should have been grateful for the trip, which, after all, they were financing. Their behaviour towards her was crass; they did not know that she had never been abroad before because they didn’t ask. They took no steps to ensure that she was comfortable or to find out from her what they could do to make her feel supported, and, above all appreciated.
  2. The trip was a very unpleasant one for X. In his evidence A spoke only of the symbolism for him of being present during transfer of the embryos and was either unwilling or unable to recognize how lonely or frightening the trip was for X. He came across as emotionally unavailable and entirely self-regarding.
  3. X was effectively excluded from discussions at the clinic; certainly she did not, on anyone’s account, actively participate in any conversation with the consultant in the clinic. It is understandable that X felt intimidated by A and his suggestion that he had helped her by holding her hand while the embryos were put inside her body is an example of the crass behaviour to which I have already referred. X, naturally, felt nervous throughout the trip and was not at ease with A. The food was strange and unpalatable to her and she felt even more isolated because she did not have credit on her phone. Why A did not see to it that she was able to contact her family and top up her phone is incomprehensible. To repeat what Dr Willemsen said, as fantasy met medical reality she felt used and deeply uncomfortable about the arrangement but she could not find a way of expressing her feelings because she was concerned that she might upset and displease the couple. She found herself caught in a conflict; in the words of Dr Willemsen “between maintaining the fantasy and facing up to reality. She must have felt very alone at times.”
  4. The procedure in Cyprus had a huge impact on X. She had never wanted to carry two embryos and later told W that she did not say anything to the applicants as she did not want to let them down. She was both scared and anxious about it but believed the applicants when they told her that “probably only one would work.” X’s relationship with the applicants deteriorated as the reality of the uncomfortable and intrusive IVF procedure and the pregnancy took hold and she began, increasingly, to see herself as being used. Her reaction at the time has been graphically described by Dr Willemsen; as her emotional state and responses are essentially subjective I accept his evidence, and, furthermore I consider that the way that X responded to her treatment by A and B was entirely predictable. The fact that her own difficulties made her more vulnerable to suggestion and pressure being put on her does not in any way detract from her reaction, but it made it more difficult for her to stand up to the applicants and tell them that she no longer wanted to proceed. She told Dr Willemsen that she had had doubts before the trip but her experience while she was there intensified her feelings of doubt and uncertainty and she felt used.
  5. It was from then that she had started to look for a way out of the agreement. It is clear from the messages that she sent in late October 2014 that she felt worried about having twins “how scairy twins lol xx” and … “my partners like its gunna damage your body blah blah…” to which L, who she was in touch with online, replied “no it wont [sic]”; a response, which while might have been meant as reassuring, was patently untrue. The applicants had not arranged life insurance as agreed despite the agreement stipulating it would be arranged before pregnancy and X became so worried, that this issue was revisited 4 days later, when, in early November 2014, W emailed the applicants about arranging a scan for X and X messaged A “I would like to get insurance starting today please, as it should have been done befor we [sic]got pregnant xx”.
  6. Then in mid-November V was told by L that X was the next surrogate for the applicants. When A became aware of this two days later he sent a message to W about V saying “she can turn really nasty” A sent a message to X telling her “to try not to get stressed and ignore nasty msgs we had such good news today with the heartbeats lets focus on the future”. He clearly had not thought about the effect that V might have on X when she would come to realise that they had deliberately withheld information from her about the poor relationship that had developed between V and the applicants during their “journey”. His messages are further evidence that the applicants had sought to ensure that V did not find out about the second pregnancy to stop her from putting any surrogate off entering into a surrogacy agreement with them, not, as they said in their evidence, to avoid confrontation with V.
  7. Over the next week in November X received several messages from V in which she complained that the applicants had not paid her fairly; that she had been ill during and after pregnancy with the twins; and that they had treated her badly. Unsurprisingly this increased the fears X already had about her agreement with the applicants. The standard response from the applicants and from L was to minimize the concerns by repeatedly blaming V and saying, amongst other similar epithets, that she was “bonkers”. A then sent X a message saying ‘its sad but I’m reconciled now to having no relationship’ with V which, far from reassuring her must have sent the unspoken message to X that she, too, could be cut out of any child’s life in the future.
  8. In their oral evidence both applicants showed limited if any real understanding of the various factors which had undermined X’s confidence in the agreement and led her to consider a termination. Instead I was left with the clear impression that they seemed to expect her to be grateful for acting as their surrogate rather than the other way around. From the messages filed in the court bundle it is clear that there were emotionally intense exchanges from V, W and others on the forum to X. Later in November 2014 B travelled to be there during a scan and saw X for the first time since March 2014 (when they met at the fast food outlet to sign the agreement). They do not appear to have discussed V or what had happened between them. X’s anxiety had increased and in late November she asked V to speak to or text her sister. It was around this time that she decided to seek a termination and turned to W for support.

 

 

 

In the event, she didn’t have a termination, but she did tell A and B that there had been a miscarriage. The woman running the Facebook group, W, doesn’t come out of this judgment terribly well.

 

Miscarriage, birth and the role of W

  1. Although there is no evidence before the court to establish that W is an agent or runs an agency it is clear that she has had a very strong interest in linking surrogates to commissioning parents and being involved in surrogacy. Precisely what her motivation for taking on this role is not something that this court is in a position to decide. As can be seen from the messages that passed between them W offered to “link” or introduce the applicants to X and repeatedly told them she had many other contacts and options for them should the “match” not work out. W’s influence over X can be seen in her successful attempt to persuade X not to have a termination and W accepted, in her evidence, that she was instrumental in that decision.
  2. Although W has tried to insist that she did not want to get involved in things which did not concern her, she actively and deliberately placed herself at the centre of the crisis that X was experiencing and which unfolded on the Facebook site over V in November 2014, and which, in turn, lead to X deceiving the applicants. When W gave oral evidence before me she was by turn defiant and defensive; she was unsympathetic to X and sided with the applicants who she referred to as “the boys“. W accepted that she had encouraged X to tell the applicants she had miscarried and gave as her own motivation for doing so her determination to ensure that there was no termination. She told me she was aware that the applicants’ relationship with V had ended badly and said that when X complained to her, for example about the life insurance not being in place, she had begun to believe that V might have been right about the applicants as there were now two surrogates with complaints about them.
  3. It remains unclear from W’s written statement or from her oral evidence why she later changed her mind, took against X and decided to inform the applicants that she and X had deceived them about the miscarriage. I accept the submission made on behalf of X that W seemed personally to invest in continuing the pregnancy and then disclosing that X was still pregnant to A and B; she had no reason to involve herself to this extent apart from her own personal gratification in a sense of power or exercise of a controlling influence over the lives of others with whom she was so singularly unconcerned. At first, as can be seen from the messages exchanged between them, W urged X to carry the child rather than terminate a pregnancy; she explained to X that she was the legal parent, as X had thought she would go to prison if she did not hand over the baby at birth (another example of how little X had understood her legal position and the effects of the agreement). There can be no doubt that W can be characterised as manipulative, just as there is no doubting that X was easily led. W’s messages were directive and it was she who suggested to X how she should lie to the applicants, going as far as to say “make sure you get paid first”.
  4. That W was duplicitous is obvious from her conduct; on the one hand she encouraged X to deceive the applicants, and some of the comments she made about A and B were vicious and unkind; and on the other having convinced X to keep the baby she then told the applicants about the pregnancy while pretending to X that she was supporting her. In what Ms Fottrell described as a particularly cruel exchange about X’s inability to afford a lawyer in any court proceedings she messaged A “lets hope she xant afford a solicitor if she cannot even afford credit on her phone! Xxx”. A’s response of “isn’t she a joke, [W]!” exposed the contempt in which he held the woman who had gone through a very difficult pregnancy at his behest, whether or not she had ended up trying to deceive him. This is in contrast to X, who has continued to seek to please the applicants, as evidenced in her readiness to agree to extended contact whenever it has been suggested to her and to ensure that Z has had an opportunity to develop a relationship with his biological father.

 

[The Judge doesn’t say that these messages were vile, but my personal view is that she would have been entitled to do so. You can all form your own personal views, I’m sure]

  1. While W’s manipulation of X was calculated and had a direct impact on her, the continued inability of A and B, in their evidence before this court, even to consider that their conduct may have had something to do with the manner in which X had reacted to them is noteworthy, and in keeping with the air of victimhood on the one hand and sense of entitlement on the other trailed throughout their written evidence. It was palpably evident that A seemed to feel he had ownership of Z and that X was merely a gestational surrogate, a mere vessel, with no rights over the child she was carrying and none over the child when he was born. Throughout these proceedings as can be seen from their reaction to the guardian’s recommendations about contact and other matters concerning Z’s care both the applicants struggled to accept X as Z’s mother; the woman who carried and gave birth to him. It was not until they gave oral evidence that there was, reluctantly, an emerging acceptance of the importance of that role in Z’s life.

 

 

Like me, you might well be very relieved that the view of the Court was that X, with help from her partner and support, should keep Z and that Z should not be moved to A and B.  Z will have contact with A and B one weekend every two months.

There are some massive lessons to be learned from this case – treating people with kindness and respect is much more likely to result in a workable surrogacy arrangement than treating them as merely a ‘vessel’ and the arrangement as a commercial transaction or purchase; that if surrogacy agreements go wrong they can take a great deal of time, heartache and money to unpick and put right, and that surely we need some proper form of protection so that someone like X who was naïve, gullible, easily led, vulnerable and sufficiently poor that she had difficulty in even keeping credit on her phone is not exploited or manipulated by others who don’t have those vulnerabilities.

 

 

 

 

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Overseas surrogacy

I have written a few pieces about overseas surrogacy this year , which probably reflects that more of these arrangements are being made, or at least that more of them are going wrong.

 

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2014/04/29/surrogacy-arrangements-made-overseas/

about  a commercial arrangement with the Kiran agency to have a surrogacy in India.  (I would urge some careful research before you pick your agency in India)

 

and

 

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2014/05/16/commercial-surrogacy-iowa-and-an-unforseen-difficulty/    about a tricky commercial surrogacy in Iowa, that went wrong because the Iowa procedure is that the commissioning ‘parents’ adopt the child, which breaches English law on arranging adoptions overseas.

 

and

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2014/07/02/yet-more-international-surrogacy/   about a commercial surrogacy in Georgia, where the Georgian organisation seemed incapable of answering a straight question about whether the surrogate mother was married.

 

There has been the obvious scandal this week about baby Gammy

 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-28627374

 

The story here is that an Australian couple entered into a surrogacy arrangement with commercial elements in Thailand. The surrogate mother gave birth to twins, one of whom, Gammy, has Downs Syndrome. The story (though it is refuted) is that the Australian couple took the other twin but would not take Gammy. There are calls for commercial and overseas surrogacy to be better regulated.

I would not want to demonise surrogacy in the flurry of outrage about this particular case. It works for many people and provides a legitimate way of someone to concieve and care for a biological child if they are incapable of physically carrying a child of their own, for example.

 

So first, what IS surrogacy?

 

It involves having a woman become pregnant, carry the baby, give birth and then give the baby up. But most importantly, the persons to whom the baby is given to have provided either the sperm or the eggs, or both, to make the fertilisation possible. I.e one of the people who will be caring for the baby will be a genetic parent to that child.  If there isn’t a genetic link by the provision of either sperm or eggs, that isn’t surrogacy. That’s just straight out buying a baby.

 

In England, surrogacy is legal, although the commercial element is highly regulated. A person can’t pay for a baby, nor can the surrogate mother charge a fee. What is legitimate is a payment to cover legitimate and genuine expenses involved.

 

section 2 of the Surrogacy Arrangements Act 1985 which says :

2 Negotiating surrogacy arrangements on a commercial basis, etc.

(1)No person shall on a commercial basis do any of the following acts in the United Kingdom, that is—

(a) initiate or take part in any negotiations with a view to the making of a surrogacy arrangement,

(b) offer or agree to negotiate the making of a surrogacy arrangement, or

(c) compile any information with a view to its use in making, or negotiating the making of, surrogacy arrangements;

and no person shall in the United Kingdom knowingly cause another to do any of those acts on a commercial basis.

 

Anyone purporting to run a Surrogacy Agency in the UK, or to charge an introduction fee or arrangement fee fo surrogacy is doing so illegally.

 

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority has some very good guidance about Surrogacy, here

http://www.hfea.gov.uk/fertility-treatment-options-surrogacy.html#8

 

Overseas, however, it is lawful in some countries to have an Agency to put prospective commissioners together with prospective surrogates, and to charge a fee for doing so. As happened here.

 

Here are the two major issues with Surrogacy for the ‘commissioning parents’, particularly where it is overseas

 

1.  If the biological / birth mother gives birth and then does not want to hand the child over, it is easy to get embroiled in difficult litigation over it. The existence of a ‘contract’ or ‘agreement’ to hand over the baby isn’t going to be determinative of it, things will depend very much on the law in that country and the mother’s ability to look after the child. It can be very protracted, confusing and expensive.

 

2. To ensure that both ‘commissioning parents’ have legal rights to the child in this country, an application to an English Court has to be made. That’s an application for a Parental Order.  Here is the really important bit. That application MUST be issued before the child is six months old.  If it is issued six months and one day after birth, it is too late. You can’t get your Parental Order. The Court has no power to cut you some slack or let you off. That six month cut off is a real deal. So you have to be organised.  Also, your application has to cover all of the necessary details – getting evidence that the Surrogate mother is not married, that she is the genuine mother of the child and that she genuinely consents is all vital. And for that, given that the Surrogate mother is overseas, you can be entirely dependent on the Surrogate Agency being good.  (they aren’t always)

 

One of the things the Court will have to do in the consideration of the Parental Order is look at the fees that you paid. This is a scrutiny to make sure that you paid a reasonable and fair amount, and importantly that it wasn’t such a high amount that it becomes ‘buying a baby’  – i.e that the sum offered is so much that the Surrogate mother is not simply doing this as a purely commercial enterprise. As a matter of public policy, the Government don’t want people buying and selling babies. And when it comes to ‘buying’ a baby from  a country that has substantial poverty and different standards of living that becomes even more sensitive.

 

Here are the guidelines for Courts when approving such payments (which remember is retrospective – after the money has been paid and the baby handed over)

 

When considering whether to authorise the payments made in this case the relevant principles are firmly established by the cases, starting with Re X and Y (Foreign Surrogacy) [2008] EWHC 3030 (Fam) [2009] 2WLR 1274 (paragraph 19 and 20) and the cases that have followed (in particular Re S (Parental Order) [2009] EWHC 2977 (Fam), Re L (Commercial Surrogacy) [2010] EWHC 3146 (Fam), [2011] 2WLR 1006 Re IJ (Foreign Surrogacy Agreement Parental Order) [2011] EWHC 921 (Fam) [2011] 2FLR 646 and Re X and Y (Parental Order: Retrospective Authorisation of Payments) [2011] EWHC 3147 (Fam)).

(1) the question whether a sum paid is disproportionate to “reasonable expenses” is a question of fact in each case. What the court will be considering is whether the sum is so low that it may unfairly exploit the surrogate mother, or so high that it may place undue pressure on her with the risk, in either scenario, that it may overbear her free will;

(2) the principles underpinning section 54 (8), which must be respected by the court, is that it is contrary to public policy to sanction excessive payments that effectively amount to buying children from overseas.

(3) however, as a result of the changes brought about by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Parental Orders) Regulations 2010, the decision whether to authorise payments retrospectively is a decision relating to a parental order and in making that decision, the court must regard the child’s welfare as the paramount consideration.

(4) as a consequence it is difficult to imagine a set of circumstances in which, by the time an application for a parental order comes to court, the welfare of any child, particularly a foreign child, would not be gravely compromised by a refusal to make the order: As a result: “it will only be in the clearest case of the abuse of public policy that the court will be able to withhold an order if otherwise welfare considerations support its making”, per Hedley J in Re L (Commercial Surrogacy) [2010] EWHC 3146 (Fam), [2011] 2WLR 1006, at paragraph 10.

(5) where the applicants for a parental order are acting in good faith and without ‘moral taint’ in their dealings with the surrogate mother, with no attempt to defraud the authorities, and the payments are not so disproportionate that the granting of parental orders would be an affront to public policy, it will ordinarily be appropriate for the court to exercise its discretion to give retrospective authorisation, having regard to the paramountcy of the child’s lifelong welfare.

 

It is worth noting that the sort of amounts sanctioned by English Courts this year have been approximately £20,000, which went to an Agency in India. (The Agency kept nearly all of that, with about £4,000 going to the Surrogate mother).

 

In England, £4,000 is not out of line with what one might pay a Surrogate Mother in terms of expenses, but £4,000 probably is a substantial amount more in India in terms of buying power.  How confident can we be that this is not exploitative, and essentially ‘buying’ a baby?

 

I’d certainly urge anyone contemplating surrogacy overseas to get their own legal advice, and probably to contact the HFEA for help and guidance. There are better places than others when considering overseas surrogacy, and certainly better agencies than others.

 

 

 

Commercial surrogacy, Iowa and an unforseen difficulty

 

The law reports today have had a distinctly American flavour, with this one being concerned with a commercial surrogacy arrangement between a French couple who moved to England, and a baby born in Iowa; and the next one up which is about Texans.

Re G and M 2014

http://www.familylaw.co.uk/articles/re-g-and-m-2014-ewhc-1561-fam

As the Court say, this is another case where a commercial surrogacy arrangement overseas throws up a complication, although this one would be wholly unexpected.

The French couple moved to the UK (relatively recently) but it was obviously a genuine move, them having bought a house, changed jobs, become contributors to the British tax system etc. They wanted a baby and provided their own genetic material to a surrogate mother in Iowa through an agency  (it will come to no surprise to regular readers that the sums of money that changed hands were authorised by the Court after the event)

The authorities in Iowa followed their processes to the letter, as did the French couple, and twins were born in due course. What the French people had not realised was that the last stage of the process in Iowa was effectively to make an adoption order for the twins in favour of this couple.

That’s a whole new ball game, because of this provision in the Adoption and Children Act 2002

The relevant parts of s 83(1) provides:

‘1) This section applies where a person who is habitually resident in the British Islands –

(b) At any time brings, or causes another to bring, into the United Kingdom a child adopted by the British resident under an external adoption effected within the period of six months ending with that time.’

[6] The section then goes on to make various provisions including, importantly at s 83 (8), a person may be liable for a summary conviction in relation to contravention of that section. It sets out the maximum terms of summary conviction not exceeding six months, or a fine to the statutory maximum, or both

 

That section came about as a result of public policy issues, notably Mr and Mrs Kilshaw who ‘bought’ a baby on the internet when there was nothing preventing that sort of thing happening.  (One might suggest that commercial surrogacy is not all that different, but it is sufficiently different to make it legal – largely because the baby is created with genetic material from at least one of the people who will be caring for him/her)

 

This couple had not anticipated adopting this child, and had not, therefore, sought approval as adopters or to adopt from overseas. That put them in the position of having accidentally breached s83, and potentially liable for criminal charges.

[19] In reality the applicants had little option other than to undertake that legal process in Iowa. It was clearly in the children’s interests that they secured their legal position in the State of Iowa regarding both children. It also meant they fulfilled the terms of the surrogacy arrangement which required them to take all necessary steps to secure their legal relationship with the children, and to extinguish the respondent’s legal relationship and responsibilities regarding the children. It probably also assisted in them being able to secure the relevant immigration clearance to enable them to bring G and M to this jurisdiction, which they did very shortly thereafter, arriving back in this country on 21 April.

[20] However the difficulty with having undertaken those legal steps in Iowa, not only to comply with the terms of the agreement that they entered into, but also to secure the appropriate orders to ensure that M and G’s welfare needs were met whilst they were in that jurisdiction, the applicants left themselves open to potentially being in breach of s 83, namely bringing children into this jurisdiction without having gone through the required procedures having undertaken an adoption abroad.

[21] The applicants were clearly between a rock and a hard place. It is clear that from a welfare standpoint, and because of their obligations under the surrogacy agreement, the steps they took in the US were the right steps to take and were done with the best of intentions and with the children’s welfare uppermost in their minds. They had no idea that by undertaking those steps, they would potentially be in breach of s 83.

[22] It is important this issue is highlighted. Intended parents who are about to embark on similar arrangements in the US may wish to take advice in the early stages when they are selecting surrogate mothers and consider whether the State in which the child is going to be born requires the same process as was undertaken in Iowa, so they do not find themselves in breach of s 83. The difficulties that arose in this case where parties are following surrogacy arrangements and intending to come back to this jurisdiction to issue applications for parental orders need to be highlighted to the Department of Health so they can consider whether this situation was intended to be caught by the provisions of s 83 that result in a criminal offence.

[23] It is clearly an important issue to highlight but, as I shall come on to describe in a moment, in this case I am entirely satisfied the applicants undertook these steps because they felt that was the best way of securing their legal relationship with M and G in the State of Iowa. They were clearly following specialist legal advice as to what steps they should take. There is absolutely no suggestion in this case the applicants have done anything other than act in good faith and complied with all relevant authorities both in the US and here.

 

 

The Court went on to make the parental order sought by the couple

[53] Even if the requirements under s 54 are satisfied, the court has to go on to consider whether each child’s welfare needs will be met by the court making a parental order. Section 1 ACA 2002 sets out that the paramount consideration for the court is the lifelong welfare needs of each child, having regard to the welfare considerations set out in s 1(4).

[54] The court has been enormously assisted in this task by the report provided by John Power, the parental order reporter. His report is dated 31 January 2014 following his visit to the family home on 15 January of this year. He sets out in that detailed report his perceptive analysis of the welfare checklist between paras 40 – 47 which I wholly accept and endorse. He concludes his assessment with the following:

‘The applicants care for the children lovingly and have been proactive in ensuring that their needs are met. G and M demonstrate secure attachment to the intended parents. BB and BD are confident that AM entered into the surrogacy arrangement knowingly and willingly. They are confident that the amount paid was not such as to strongly influence or overpower the surrogate’s freewill in making the arrangement.

G and M’s permanent home will be with BB and BD. A parental order will benefit them greatly as it will secure G and M in law as the intended parents’ children, thus, affording them the greatest possible security. In the circumstances, I take the view that it is overwhelmingly in the interests of G and M for a parental order to be granted.’

[55] I am entirely satisfied that each child’s lifelong welfare needs can only be met by their legal relationship with the applicants being on the securest footing possible, and that can only be achieved by this court making a parental order.

 

 

Postscript – in a bizarre twist, another case CC V DD has just  been reported, with markedly similar issues  (French people adopting in England, surrogacy, Iowa, s83..  I had to read it twice to make sure it wasn’t the same judgment under a different name)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2014/1307.html