In your journey to becoming a parent, you travel many roads. For some, the road eventually leads to considering surrogacy options abroad. Despite how attractive the lower cost of fertility care outside the United States may be, it is not without significant risk. One of the most important things to realize is that surrogacy in other countries often doesn’t carry the same legal protections that are afforded to couples undergoing surrogacy in the United States.
Read on for more information about how surrogacy is different in the UK and why it’s so risky to look at international surrogacy instead of staying close to home.
Finding your surrogate
Though surrogacy is technically legal in the UK, there are some intricacies in the law. First, it is illegal to advertise that a person is looking for a surrogate or looking to act as a surrogate. It is also illegal for third parties, like a surrogacy agency or attorney, to facilitate such arrangements.
There are two options for finding a surrogate in the UK:
- Using a surrogacy organization: There are three main surrogacy organizations in the UK. These organizations are the exceptions to the legal rule forbidding third parties from arranging surrogacy agreements. They perform many of the functions an American surrogacy agency does; they help locate surrogates, perform background checks, and assist with the legal agreement.
- Independently: Some couples and surrogates opt to go into the process without the help of an organization. This is most common in altruistic or known circles where a family member or friend is carrying for the couple. Generally, given the complexity of the law and what is at stake, it is not recommended to use the independent route.
In the US, there are similar options. Intended parents and surrogates can either go through a cycle independently or with the assistance of a surrogacy agency. Surrogacy agencies facilitate and simplify much of the process, making it easier and less confusing for all parties involved. Like the UK, independent surrogacy is generally not recommended, except in altruistic cases.
The birth certificate and surrogacy agreement
Though it depends on the US state where the surrogacy cycle is performed, the intended parents can directly be listed on the birth certificate without the surrogate having to be named at all.
In the UK, however, the surrogate’s name is automatically listed as birth mother. If she is married, her partner will go on the birth certificate as the baby’s father. Though there are processes in place to transfer legal parenthood to the intended parents, this is an extra step.
It is also important to recognize that though surrogacy is legal in the UK, surrogacy contracts are not enforceable by law. This poses an added risk; someone considering surrogacy in the UK must meet with a specialist to make sure intended parents meet the requirements needed to obtain a parental order. An additional risk, though rare, is that the surrogate will change her mind, giving intended parents little to no legal recourse.
Finally, in the UK, it is illegal for someone, including an attorney, to negotiate a surrogacy agreement. While in the United States, an attorney will represent each party and negotiate the contract to make sure that it is fair for all involved, this process does not occur in the UK. Parents and surrogates must get to know and trust each other well before making an agreement. There are, however, surrogacy organizations that can help with this process.
People eligible for surrogacy
In the US, surrogacy is a treatment option for all:
- Married couples
- Unmarried couples
- Straight couples
- Gay couples
- Single people
- People using their own egg and sperm
- Couples using donated eggs and/or sperm
In the UK, surrogacy isn’t quite as inclusive with restrictions surrounding who can access surrogacy. To date, single people are not eligible to apply for legal parenthood after a surrogacy cycle. Though legislation is planned to change that, the law has not yet been updated.
Additionally, at least one member of the couple (regardless of sexual orientation) must have a genetic link to the baby. This means that a couple requiring the use of both an egg donor and a sperm donor is not able to use a surrogate in the UK.
The bottom line
Even though surrogacy in the UK may cost substantially less, it is important to recognize what you are giving up in the process. If the relationship between you and your surrogate goes sour, or there are other complications, you may not have any legal protections whatsoever, which means that you may lose the baby you are working so hard to conceive.