Childless Britons Turning to U.S. Surrogacy Agencies

´Rent-a-Womb´ Trade Side-steps British Restrictions

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LONDON, JAN. 28, 2001 (
Top infertility clinics in Britain are referring wealthy childless couples to American «rent-a-womb» agencies which hire out surrogate mothers, The Sunday Times reported today.

The agreements side-step restrictions on surrogacy in Britain, the newspaper said. Surrogate mothers in California now simply sign forms in hospital immediately after giving birth in order to allow the buyers automatically to be recognized as parents without formally having to adopt the baby.

Details of the trans-Atlantic trade have emerged as the British government prepares legislation to prevent people importing babies purchased via the Internet, after the Kilshaw scandal. Judith and Alan Kilshaw, from north Wales, paid £8,000 for 6-month-old twins they had spotted on an American Web site. The babies were last week taken into care after it was revealed that they had already been sold to another couple by a baby broker and that their adoption raised legal difficulties.

Hiring an American surrogate avoids these pitfalls. The controversial London in vitro fertilization specialist Ian Craft says he has referred a number of patients across the Atlantic, as has Bourn Hall Clinic in Cambridgeshire, Britain´s longest established IVF center. Prices charged by the American women range from £12,000 to £20,000 depending on whether they use their own or a donor egg. The British couples pay around £50,000 for a total package which includes the cost of creating IVF embryos using their sperm and eggs, counseling and legal fees.

They select a surrogate mother from a catalogue. After the pregnancy has been established they return home, then fly back nine months later to pick up the baby, which under the new law, is simply signed over to them as parents.

Although surrogacy is not banned here, there can be no payment beyond undefined «reasonable expenses» for the service, and the commissioning mother must be no older than 35, a requirement which excludes large numbers of childless women.

Craft has no financial involvement in the trade, but says he has recommended the Center for Surrogate Parenting in Beverly Hills to infertile couples who are wealthy enough not to need to wait until they can find a surrogate here. «What´s so awful about it?» the Sunday Times quoted Craft saying. «Surrogacy arrangements have always gone on. Whenever legislation is brought in, people find some way round it. I do not see why we can´t have the systems to allow it here.»

Craft, who runs a clinic in London´s West End, was widely criticized last week after his patient, Lynne Bezant, 56, became the oldest mother of twins. However, Craft defends his practice of referring patients to American surrogates. «In America, surrogacy and egg donation are expensive, but the culture is you pay for something and you get a service,» he said. «It is preposterous that people have to go there for something that should be available here.»

Karen Synesiou, a lawyer from Chelmsford, Essex, who co-owns CSP, saw the market opportunity when she moved to California 10 years ago. Synesiou, who is married to a NASA rocket scientist, said 20 couples a year now came from Britain to take advantage of the facility, and the level of interest is growing steadily. «Since you can now carry frozen embryos, or sperm on a plane yourself in a special container, it has got much easier,» she said.

Surrogate motherhood is condemned in a 1987 document «Donum Vitae,» published by the Catholic Church´s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

In answer to the question, «Is ´Surrogate´ Motherhood Morally Licit?», the document says: «No, for the same reasons which lead one to reject heterologous artificial fertilization: for it is contrary to the unity of marriage and to the dignity of the procreation of the human person.

«Surrogate motherhood represents an objective failure to meet the obligations of maternal love, of conjugal fidelity and of responsible motherhood; it offends the dignity and the right of the child to be conceived, carried in the womb, brought into the world and brought up by his own parents; it sets up, to the detriment of families, a division between the physical, psychological and moral elements which constitute those families» (No. 3).

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