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Ukraine’s surrogate babies born into a nightmare

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DID you know that Elon Musk has seven children? They range in age from twins of 18 and 16-year-old triplets to his son aged two, whose name is all but unpronounceable and has been nicknamed X. Or is it Y? No, that’s his one-year-old daughter.

The entrepreneurial new proprietor of the Twittersphere is now known throughout the world for his enthusiastic embracing of freedom, self-expression and self-determination; and these ideals also find fulfilment in his family life. He has been married, divorced, or chosen not to marry, and even divorced the same wife twice. But he happily and successfully shares the parenting of his children with their two mothers.

Well, that’s not quite accurate, because there is actually a third ‘mother’ – the birth mother of baby Y, because this little one was gestated and carried to term by another woman, a surrogate. 

Musk is not the only celebrity to choose this way of extending his family. Kim Kardashian and Cameron Diaz have publicised their experiences. Surrogacy is increasingly being chosen as a way to have a child when assisted reproductive techniques are required, or just desired.

Technically, a surrogacy is an arrangement whereby a woman, known as the gestational carrier, agrees to bear a child for another person or couple, who will then become the child’s parent(s) after birth.

As well as the likelihood of a legal contract, there may be a financial element involved. The legal and commercial factors vary considerably according to the country where the surrogacy takes place, and often there is an agency managing the arrangement. These complications have given rise to reproductive tourism, particularly when surrogacy is banned, at least commercially, in the country where the aspiring parents live. Countries where it is permitted include the US, Canada and Greece. Previously popular destinations including Mexico, India and Thailand have recently banned commercial surrogacy for non-residents.

Other countries offering the service are Ukraine and Russia, and this has come to the attention of the Swiss press, in particular, because Ukraine has for some time been an especially popular destination for would-be Swiss parents.

The Swiss law on reproduction bans any form of surrogacy, irrespective of marital status. In 2015, the Federal Court annulled a decision which allowed two men in a registered partnership  both to be considered the father of a child born via assisted reproduction, ruling that a child could not have two fathers. The paternity only of the father who gave his sperm, and was therefore genetically linked to the child, could be legally recognised. 

It was particularly important, according to the Swiss court, that ‘a child must be protected from being downgraded to a commodity which can be ordered by a third party’, and the mothers involved should be protected from commercialisation.

Nevertheless, this has not deterred the increasing number of Swiss families who are turning to foreign surrogate mothers. Last year 48 children from surrogates were officially registered, and in the past four years, 144 such children were registered nationwide. Most were born in the US, closely followed by Ukraine. But this is considered a significant underestimate, and much is done to circumvent legal restrictions. A recent report described a package deal in Ukraine that includes a prosthetic pregnancy ‘bump’ for the ‘expecting’ mother to wear in Switzerland, all in the interests of ‘authenticity’.

With the outbreak of war, the vulnerabilities of this business in Ukraine have been exposed. The Swiss press has documented stories about parents managing to flee the country with their new-born on the last convoy out of the Swiss Embassy, but others have not been so fortunate. Many newborns remain uncollected, and BioTexCom, the largest surrogacy agency in Ukraine, reports that it has transferred its facilities to underground bunkers, where nurses care for babies while the fighting and bombing rage overhead. Many babies have been taken, unprotected, to the border, where the intended parents wait to receive them. Many  remain uncollected, raising serious doubts about their safety and longer-term future. For some, the Russian invasion has forced Ukrainian surrogate mothers to choose between fleeing the country and staying in a war zone. But if they give birth outside the country, there is the risk that their babies will not be legally recognised as the children of their ‘clients’.

Equally problematic must be the position of babies born to Russian surrogate mothers and destined for families in countries where anything Russian is being shunned. Imagine the consequences for a Russian woman who enters into a surrogacy arrangement with a foreign couple, who then back out of the deal. Not only will the child be lost to the aspiring parents, but the otherwise impoverished gestational mother may be left with a child she did not intend to keep. Even worse, the babies may be abandoned to the agency involved.

Whatever your views on the ethics and management of surrogacy procedures, this is a fate the little ones have done nothing to deserve. 

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Janice Davis
Janice Davis
Janice Davis is a grandmother and former girls’ grammar school teacher

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