British Columbia

Time to change surrogacy laws in Canada, say delegates at fertility conference

It's legal to get a woman to carry and deliver a baby but in Canada it's illegal to pay her and many people think it's time for that law to be changed.

Changing nature of Canadian families spurs increased demand for surrogates

In Canada, it's legal to get a woman to carry and deliver your baby but it's illegal to pay her for that service. (CBC)

Treatment for cervical cancer at a young age left Liz Ellwood unable to have children.

Six years ago, Ellwood used a surrogate to have her daughter. 

"It was incredibly difficult. There was a lot of grey area to sort through. You couldn't really determine what was legal and what was not legal," said Ellwood. 

In Canada, it's legal to have a woman carry and deliver a child, but it's illegal to pay her for that service. 

The notion of how families are formed has changed in recent years, and it continues to evolve.

As a result, there has been an increased demand for surrogate mothers, said delegates to a fertility conference in Vancouver.

They say it's time Canada's surrogacy laws changed too.

"The prohibitive aspect of the law is that you can't compensate that person in-and-beyond what's a receiptable expense," said Dr. Jeff Roberts, president of the Canadian Fertility and Andrology Society (CFAS).

"What we're looking for as a society is to have a reasonable level of compensation,"  Roberts said.

Many head south 

He added, "Many walks of life ultimately require third party reproduction — the assistance of someone else to conceive — which is widely restricted across Canada because of the current laws."

But the rules are different in some American states.

Gay couples or people with fertility issues often travel to U.S. locations that permit surrogates to be paid for carrying someone else's baby. 

"They're actually incurring much more having to leave the country and with the United States they're also paying for exchange and other expenses associated with being in another city or another country," said Roberts.

Roberts was asked why women who give birth for other people should be compensated, while people who donate organs are not.

"You have to look at the level of intervention that they're going through," he said. 

"Obviously, removing a kidney requires a major operation. The level of risk is not the same." 

Roberts acknowledged CFAS members stand to profit if surrogacy is made easier in Canada. 

Matchmaking business 

In a bid to keep would-be parents at home, Ellwood has co-founded a business to connect them to Canadian surrogates.

"I think we need to allow some sort of fair compensation system in Canada," she said.

"Bring it out into the open. Bring it out of the grey areas and make this system friendly so we can find more surrogates and more egg donors who are comfortable working in this area." 

The federal government is working to regulate surrogacy in Canada, but not to change the law. 

 "The doctors in fertility are all saying the rules need to be changed," said Ellwood.