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Earthquake throws spotlight on Israeli use of Nepalese surrogacy

5 May 2015
Appeared in BioNews 800

Israel has evacuated a number of babies born to Israeli parents and surrogate mothers in Nepal, in the wake of the earthquake which killed at least 7500 people.

The disaster has thrown an unexpected spotlight on the use of surrogacy in Nepal by gay Israeli men, and ignited a debate about international surrogacy.

Time reports that on 28 April, an aircraft landed in Tel Aviv, completing the evacuation of 26 surrogate Israeli babies born in Nepal during the six weeks before the earthquake. However, none of the surrogates were allowed to travel.

Since then the country has begun making provision for surrogates still pregnant with Israeli babies - thought to number around 100 - to enter. However, the women, who are mostly Indian, still face significant bureaucratic obstacles to doing so, and some of them reportedly do not have passports.

In Israel, surrogacy is reserved only for heterosexual couples and, while gay women have access to sperm banks, gay men have few options for starting a family.

Prior to 2013, many single gay men or couples sought surrogacy in India but, after this was banned by the government there, many surrogacy agencies and surrogates moved across the border into Nepal. According to the Israeli paper Haaretz, same sex surrogacy is allowed in Nepal, as long as the surrogate is not Nepalese herself.

Medical care in the country is now under severe strain in the aftermath of the disaster. Many facilities were destroyed in the earthquake and those that survived are overwhelmed. An estimated 8 million people in the country are thought to have been affected by the 7.8 magnitude earthquake which struck on 25 April. Many have been left without shelter and limited access to food.

Israel has subsequently come in for criticism for prioritising the evacuation of its newest citizens in the midst of such turmoil. An editorial in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz by activist Alon-Lee Green also took issue with the media focus on the Israeli fathers of the children, at the expense of the surrogate mothers.

'How can it be that none of the human-interest stories or compassion-filled posts mentioned these women? Who now, like the babies they’ve just had, are also stuck in the disaster zone?' he writes.

Some have suggested that as a consequence of events since last Saturday, Israel may have to re-examine its laws that force gay men to look abroad for surrogacy.

One father, Yossi Filiba, who was on the flight to Tel Aviv with his three-week old daughter told the Huffington Post that he thinks attitudes towards gay parents in the country are changing.

'We always walk a tight rope in Israel between the state and the religion,' Filiba explained. 'There’s a lot of criticism about surrogacy. But I think that in the last few years, the concept of families is changing.'

But, in relation to the situation in Nepal, Green argues that the rights of gay men should not be furthered to the detriment of others.

'I support the right of gays and others in the LGBT community, to which I belong, to have children and build families in Israel,' he writes. 'But I don’t think that these rights ought to be achieved at the expense of other human beings. Because then our struggle goes from being the most just in the world to being one that creates another injustice. And I think there is enough injustice in the world as it is.'

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