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Surrogacy gives two women two outcomes: one a gift and one a disaster

Published: Tuesday, April 23 2013 4:20 p.m. MDT

Atlantic writer Suzanne Rico can hold her child as she tells the story of the woman who carried her baby for her. But there's also a potentially dark side to surrogacy as unscrupulous women make promises and literally fail to deliver.

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Suzanne Rico can hold her child as she writes the story of the woman who carried her baby for her. But there's also a potentially dark side to surrogacy as unscrupulous women make promises and literally fail to deliver.

Rico's story is in The Atlantic, presented as both a celebration of that baby born in 2008 and a cautionary tale. Dawn Bennett carried her baby for her after Rico had endured five failed in vitro fertilization procedures, three miscarriages and turned 41.

The other thread belongs to Donna Yaniv Calif, a Las Vegas woman who with her husband was bilked out of thousands of dollars by a woman who agreed to be a surrogate and carry their child. She was implanted with their fertilized embryos. But she fleeced them, reportedly deliberately, of more than $30,000. Eventually, with another surrogate, they had a baby.

The headline sums it up as "joyful, frightening, always risky."

"Because surrogacy is no longer the touchy-feely fringe field of high-tech baby-making, but a multimillion-dollar industry, this third-party reproductive option comes with the caveat 'buyer beware,' " Rico wrote. "... The inherent risks intended parents face when entering into third-party reproduction are exacerbated by the fact that surrogacy is largely unregulated."

In surrogacy, a woman carries and gives birth to a child for another couple or individual. There are a number of combinations, including donor sperm or donor egg or both, for example. A surrogate mother may or may not be related to the child.

Legal questions have arisen around the world. In Ireland, for instance, a woman's own twins were carried by her sister. But though the two women agreed that the eventual mother's name would appear on the birth certificate, she had to win in court to get that to occur, according to a story in RTE News.

An article in the Telegraph notes that hospitals and clinics in the United Kingdom are wrestling with what to do when discharging babies born in surrogate arrangements. There's no guidance that says send them home with the intended mom or the surrogate mom.

"The review published in The Obstetrician and Gynaecologist said that staff should consult hospital lawyers and risk management teams before taking a decision to discharge a baby separately from the mother who gave birth to the child," the article said.

In India recently, "a Delhi court has ruled that a surrogate mother and her husband cannot have any right over a child conceived and delivered through artificial means," according to a story in the Indian Express. In that case, the surrogate was not genetically related to the child, while the intended mother was. She sued to have her name on legal documents as the mother so that she would not have to worry about complications involving custody at a later date, should the surrogate decide to claim the child.

A report on MSN said that American couples are increasingly seeking surrogates in India. "Young Indian surrogates will carry their babies to term, and for far less than it would cost in the U.S. Running at about $25,000, it's less than a quarter of what couples would pay in the U.S., but the $8,000 the surrogate mother receives is a life-changing windfall. For example, one Indian woman who is currently carrying a baby for an American couple used to work as a housemaid for $30 a month."

The risk cuts both ways and there are concerns that surrogate mothers can also be exploited. "Last March, a surrogate mother in the USA ran away to give birth and save her child after the parents-to-be suggested she have an abortion after finding out the baby had disabilities," wrote Yara Silver in the magazine Marie Claire. "In 2011, a surrogate mother in the UK won the right to keep her child after discovering the would-be parents had a history of violence."

Experts said the most important factor must always be what is best for the child.

EMAIL: lois@desnews.com, Twitter: Loisco

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