The “Ticking Timebomb” of International Surrogacy

The International Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, of which I am a Fellow, is a worldwide organization of 700 practicing lawyers who are selected by our peers and focused on international family law matters. It was formed in 1986 to improve the practice of law and administration of justice in the area of divorce and family law throughout the world. It has recently addressed issues including forced marriages, artificial reproduction technology, international adoptions and child abductions.

Earlier this month it completed a Surrogacy Symposium in London, with professionals from 30 different countries attending.

Surrogacy is banned in most of the U.S. and many other parts of the world. The tight supply leads to high costs – prices in the U.S. begin around $60,000. For about half that, a surrogacy can be arranged in India, for instance, where business is booming. The financial impulse to go abroad can be strong.

But international surrogacy is hardly regulated. In many countries outside the U.S., the surrogate remains the legal parent if no order is obtained. Medical quality controls are often lacking. If something goes wrong with the fetus, the intended parents may disagree with the surrogate over abortion.

As the Atlantic recently put it, “[i]t’s a murky, ethically-charged arena with no central governing body holding a flashlight for those on the journey.” Many “intended parents” do not realize this, or that the resulting legal fees can outstrip the original savings of going abroad.

At the Symposium, the keynote speaker, Justice Theis of England, warned of a “ticking timebomb” with large numbers of parents failing to obtain legal permission to take care of their new children.

The IAML is thus focused on creating a multilateral (Hague Convention) treaty on international surrogacy arangements. We will follow and report the developments.