Delegates at the annual meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE) in Barcelona have been told that attitudes towards surrogacy in the UK are still 'broadly negative'. In a poster presentation, Professor Olga van den Akker, from the Department of Psychology, Middlesex University, UK, also said that that previous stigmatisation of surrogate mothers in the media meant that many women or couples were reluctant to use surrogacy as a treatment for infertility.
Professor van den Akker, along with colleague Aimee Poote, from the University of Warwick, asked 187 women what they thought about surrogacy. Only eight of these women said they would ever be willing to become 'partial' surrogates (where their own egg is used) and only nine said they would be willing to become 'full' surrogates (where an embryo created by gametes created by a couple, or using donor gametes is implanted into the surrogate). Interestingly, the responses differed according to age: younger women were found to be more likely to say that they would consider surrogacy. Furthermore, the results showed that women who had previously had children of their own were more likely to say they were willing to consider becoming a surrogate. 'Those who thought that parenthood was very important were also more likely to help others to become parents like themselves', said Professor van den Akker.
The women were also asked about their attitude towards advertising for surrogates, the factors that might induce women to become surrogates and the consequences of surrogacy. The researchers found that the women who were most definite about not being a surrogate themselves also 'responded more negatively' to these questions. The same women, when asked to rate such statements as 'parenthood restricts careers' or 'parenthood is not the most important goal in life' put these higher than the women who said they might be prepared to act as surrogates did.
The researchers believe that their findings show that 'negative feelings towards surrogacy and parenthood in general are held by that part of the population that is not involved with surrogacy' and are likely to impact on the feeling of stigma associated with the practice. However, they suggest that such negative effects could possibly be helped by their study, which links 'alternative means of becoming a family to positive (rather than negative) family values'. 'These findings will help de-stigmatise surrogate motherhood, and aid those who are already disadvantaged through being infertile to disclose use of assisted conception to others', said Professor van den Akker, adding: 'We were pleased to find a more positive attitude towards the idea of surrogate mothers, perhaps because society as a whole is becoming more familiar with 'alternative' ways to have a family'.