My husband and I became parents five months ago when we welcomed Daisy to the world. She was born in India, with the help of a surrogate. Personally, I think Sweden would do well to follow the new recommendation by the Medical Ethics Council (Statens medicinsk-etiska råd, Smer).
The report, however, is already a bit outdated.
First of all, about 25 children are born annually to Swedish parents using a surrogate abroad. This practice does not in any way break Sweden’s laws.
Problems can arise when it’s time to take the child home. They risk affecting the child directly and indirectly. It can take time, for example, for Swedish authorities to recognize the parent, thus delaying payments from the Social Insurance Agency (Försäkringskassan) that administers child benefits and parental leave.
In certain Swedish municipalities, this process can take a very long time, which is in direct breach of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children. All cases that involve children should be dealt with swiftly. We at the surrogate parent support network Surrogat.nu know of one case in Malmö where it has taken more than six months to register the father of a child born through surrogacy.
There are also further legal complications to the current situation. According to the letter of the law, the woman who carries a child is the legal mother, which means that if you have a child that is biologically yours through a surrogate you are not considered the parent. The outdated law creates problems for would-be parents in Sweden today.
Imagine, for example, a Swedish couple who travel to India. Let’s say that she has viable eggs but has lost her womb due to a medical condition, while her husband’s sperm are of good quality. They go through IVF and implant the embryo in the uterus of a surrogate, a married Indian woman.
When that child is born, it is the surrogate and her husband who are the parents according to Swedish law, while the Swedish couple are the parents according to Indian law.
This leaves the child in legal no-man’s land. In the Malmö case, the child has remained in legal limbo for more than six months.
The Smer report is a step in the right direction. Imagine not having to travel to India but being able to stay in Sweden. It’s fantastic!
Yet the report, which contains many caveats, still needs to be looked at properly, including the recommendation that the surrogate should be a relative or close family member. Let’s say that a would-be parent doesn’t have a close female friend. Should he or she not be able to turn to an altruistic surrogate?
Furthermore, who actually has a relative or close friend that they think would do this for free?
There can also be an emotional toll to having the surrogate be part of your extended family or circle of friends. Imagine a family gathering at Easter, where the surrogate has to interact with the child she carried, and where the parents might feel self-conscious about their parenting efforts.
I wouldn’t want my sister to carry my child. Imagine Christmas Eve when she consciously or not ends up commenting on how I’m raising my child whom she carried. I think the Smer report caveat complicates the matter unnecessarily.
The Smer recommendation that no payment should take place is also, in my view, problematic.
Personally, I think the woman should be paid properly. Maybe she wants to study and be pregnant at the same time, or perhaps she wants to stay at home with her own children while she is pregnant. Is it not reasonable for her to be remunerated?
In broad strokes, I think it is fantastic that would-be parents in Sweden can stay in Sweden to have children with the help of a surrogate, if, of course, the government and parliament follows Smer’s recommendation and votes it through.
It will help many childless families in Sweden.
But I will stick to asking whether altruistic surrogacy is really the way to go? Let’s see.
Whatever your stance in this debate, there are a few principals that no one is arguing about: that the woman must be able to decide herself what happens to her body and that no one is exploited. And that children born by surrogates get the best welcome possible. It should not take six months for a child to get a legal parent, regardless of the circumstances surrounding his or her birth.
All surveys and studies into the well-being of children born via surrogacy say the same thing – that child is incredibly loved.
Christoffer Lindén is father to five-month-old Daisy.