The Independent reports that one couple was given their child in a car park after the hospital asked the surrogate's husband to lead them off the premises before the handover could take place.
'It seems hospitals don't want to take any responsibility in case a legal dispute occurs and it has happened on their territory so they're liable', the woman involved told the newspaper.
Under UK law, as the birth mother the surrogate remains the legal parent of the child until a parental order is approved by the court that transfers legal parenthood to the intended parents. Natalie Gamble, a lawyer specialising in surrogacy, told The Independent that offsite transfers were 'relatively common' since 'hospitals do not wish to be involved in the handover of a child [to people] who are not legal parents'.
Surrogacy is not illegal in the UK, although surrogacy arrangements are not enforceable. It is also a criminal offence to advertise for a surrogate or surrogacy services, and to receive payment for brokering an arrangement. One mother told The Independent: 'We felt like we were stealing a baby'.
Former Labour MP Julie Hilling has criticised the practice of offsite transfers, saying that 'it makes surrogacy into something like a dirty secret, when actually it's a very positive choice'. She said that given the perceived increase in the use of surrogacy, changes must be made 'to ensure ridiculous things like that don't happen [anymore]'.
Natalie Smith, a trustee of the charity Surrogacy UK, told the Daily Mail that 'no new parents should have to start their journey being made to feel demeaned and ignored, especially at such a life-changing, joyful and vulnerable time'.
In response to the reports, the Department of Health told The Independent that 'altruistic surrogacy is perfectly legal [in the UK] so it's unacceptable that some families feel they are being forced off NHS premises'. The Law Commission is currently considering whether to include surrogacy in its upcoming program of law reform, and The Independent says the Government has indicated that any changes could be introduced as early as 2020.