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TV Review: The Big Questions – Should Surrogacy Become a Commercial Business?

11 March 2019
Appeared in BioNews 990

Should surrogates in the UK be paid more than their reasonable expenses? If they get paid more, could that mean that a baby is essentially being bought and money becomes the motivation to be a surrogate? Should surrogates be able to advertise their services and couples advertise their requests as well?

These questions, in my opinion, require discussion and we need to lay down the pros and cons and build a simple and effective system by taking all the ethical and moral debates into consideration. 

One programme aiming to do just that is 'The Big Questions', a BBC series presented by journalist Nicky Campbell. People from different backgrounds, with various beliefs and opinions are called in to debate the 'big question', while Campbell directs the conversation. One recent episode of the series was dedicated to surrogacy. The big question was: Should surrogacy become a commercial business?

The number of surrogacy arrangements in the UK is growing each year, and it is becoming increasingly clear that the surrogacy law in the UK is not fit for purpose (see BioNews 948). The main problems are the complexity of the law and the lack of an early agreement on legal parenthood, which creates a period of uncertainty after the baby is born. The law commission is currently working on reviewing the current law to propose a law reform plan. The aim is to find a solution that will protect the surrogate, the intended parents and, first and foremost, the child. 

Surrogacy in the UK is only permitted if altruistic. It is illegal to advertise surrogacy services. One of the consequences of this is that couples who can afford to do so may choose to travel to another country in order to find a surrogate. 

Campbell invited two surrogates to join the debate, one of them Sarah Jones, is chair of Surrogacy UK. They talked about what led them to become surrogates and their relationship with the children to whom they gave birth. 

'The commercial model won't work in the UK because surrogates don't want it,' said Jones. 

Alice Jolly also joined the debate as a mother of a child born through surrogacy, detailing the reasons why she and her husband travelled to the USA to have their daughter through surrogacy, while Bisi Alimi, an LGBT activist, expressed his opinion in favour of the commercialisation of surrogacy. He and his husband are considering surrogacy but have also concerns. 'We know they are doing it for love, but there should be some sort of reward,' said Alimi. 

Surrogacy law experts also provided an essential take on the debate. Bethan Carr, surrogacy law specialist, said: 'With commercialisation, we can bring honesty, we can bring clarity and it will be clear what this is. This is three or four, or even more people, working together to create a family.'

Unsurprisingly, things got slightly heated when another guest, Dr Lynne Wrennall, managing director of the International Public Health Research Group, stated that children raised by parents who are not genetically related to them are more likely to experience abuse. But according to the psychotherapist Kevin Friery who was also present on the show, this contradicted the findings of the Cambridge Family Research Centre, which have shown that surrogacy families manage very well.

I generally felt that the conversation was not well structured. The topics of commercialisation and the simplification of the law were being brought up throughout the debate. Even though these two are linked, they could have more clearly been debated in two different sessions. I would also have liked to hear more about commercialisation, the risks associated with it and potential positive outcomes that it could bring. 

Although the flow of the discussion could have been better, I believe it is interesting to hear the various sides of the debate. I think that this episode does contribute to the current discussion of surrogacy law. Overall, I think this 30-minute episode is worth taking the time to listen to, as it is a good way into the current debates on surrogacy as well as the multiple, often clashing opinions on the topic.

The episode is available on BBC iPlayer.

8 April 2019 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
After many years of debate, surrogacy law reform is finally on the move. The Law Commissions of England and Wales, and that of Scotland, are now jointly evaluating areas of surrogacy law that have been identified as needing reform, with a view to making recommendations to Government in 2021...
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