The Mind-Blowing Altruism of Canadian Surrogates
At the Ben Miller resort in southern Ontario, we meet dozens of women enjoying a surrogates’ retreat, hosted by one of the many agencies which introduce surrogates to would-be parents. Swollen bellies abound. They are just a handful of the hundreds of Canadian women carrying babies for strangers. They are united in their altruism: they are motivated by the joy of helping create families. And almost as soon as they’ve delivered one child, they are signing up again to have another. Heather Chuput, one of the two surrogates profiled in Having Our Baby: The Surrogacy Boom says “I’m helping somebody in a way that they can’t help themselves. And it just feels like I'm doing something that matters.”
Everybody’s making money off surrogacy except the surrogate mothers themselves.
Lawyers, ethicists, fertility clinics, psychologists, agencies all profit from the surrogate mothers’ altruism. Because agencies aren’t allowed to “match” surrogates with prospective parents, they charge for consulting, referral and support. Parents spend on average, $60,000 to $100,000 per child and that’s without paying the surrogate mother anything but expenses.
Should women be paid to be surrogates?
When Canada’s Assisted Human Reproductive Act was passed in 2004 it made surrogacy a crime, except for altruistic reasons. That means a surrogate mother can be compensated for expenses only. But with the rise in same-sex unions and infertility, many more couples now pursue this option. That means hundreds of Canadian women now act as surrogates and some wonder whether the act that was designed to protect them, actually exploits them.
Women, like those who speak at a retreat for surrogate moms, feel submitting receipts for items such as nursing bras or pads is humiliating and that a simple overall fee to compensate them for all their time and efforts – from driving to doctors appointments to arranging for child care for their own children - would be a more dignified, respectful way to go. The agencies that support them tend to agree. “I wish they could be paid. They’re putting their lives on hold for someone else,” says Robyn Price, of Canadian Surrogacy Options. Some ethicists, like Margaret Somerville of McGill University, disagree vociferously.”I want a Chanel hand bag and I want a baby and you know I'm prepared to pay for both and I think, I think that's wrong. I also think it's wrong when we get to the level of our important values on which we found our Canadian society.”
Why Canada is a magnet for reproductive tourism
Since countries like Thailand, Mexico and India have closed the doors to foreigners seeking surrogates, there’s been an explosion in international parents contracting with Canadian surrogates. The firm Surrogacy In Canada Online reports 88 percent of 34 surrogates surveyed have been approached by international couples. Robyn Price, managing partner of Canadian Surrogacy Options, reports 100 percent growth in her foreign clientele. The incentives are clear. Canadian surrogate moms’ services are free, while couples must pay minimum $36,000 per child in the U.S. Public health care is also free for surrogate moms. So foreign parents whose invitro fertilizations often result in multiple births, high-risk pregnancies, C-sections and intensive neo-natal care cost taxpayers millions of dollars. And to top it off, all babies born in Canada are granted Canadian citizenship.
Agencies worry foreign would-be parents are also “incentivizing” Canadian moms, by offering lavish gifts that Canadian parents can’t for fear of being prosecuted, further eroding the number of surrogates available for Canadian couples.
Canada's surrogacy laws need to be reworked
Canada’s laws around surrogacy are not working and need to be reworked. The law is so vague, many parents and agencies hire lawyers to ensure they are not breaking it. Sara Cohen, a fertility lawyer in Toronto, believes the law only hurts the people it is trying to protect, because it’s not clear what’s legal and what’s not. There is no government agency that oversees how the act should work, there is no one to call within Health Canada to help guide the process.
Sally Rhoades-Heinrich says: “Canadian taxpayers have paid over $40 million for this legislation and it's a joke. They were supposed to create an agency that would regulate it and they all quit their jobs. No one's giving us direction. They were supposed to give us a list of what's considered reimbursable, what's not. They never did.”