The unsettling side of international surrogacy

Bridget, a four-year-old girl born in Ukraine, was abandoned by her American parents after it became apparent that she had disabilities. She is one of the thousands of children born in Ukraine through surrogacy in recent years. Overseas surrogacy has been a growing factor behind children ending up in orphanages and foster care systems around the world due to children like Bridget being abandoned because of physical or developmental disabilities.

International commercial surrogacy is a growing option for couples interested in expanding their families. Surrogacy allows infertile parents to have biological children. In the United States, however, surrogacy can be a complex and costly road to navigate. Estimated expenses can range from $95,000 to $150,000, leading many couples to look into overseas options.

Surrogacy in Ukraine, for example, costs up to 60 to 70 percent less than the United States, making it more accessible for couples that cannot afford surrogacy in their home countries. Although cheaper, Bridget’s case shows the darker effects of international surrogacy. As Bridget became more ill, her parents wanted her to be put up for adoption and provided a letter that gave their consent for her to be adopted. The document was not recognized under Ukrainian law, leaving Bridget in a Children’s Home.

Cases like Bridget’s are not unheard of. Ukraine’s Children's Ombudsman, an official who investigates complaints of a violation of rights, shared that he was aware of ten other cases like Bridget’s, where children had been abandoned by their parents after being born through commercial surrogacy.

Other countries, such as India and Thailand, were also popular choices for commercial surrogacy. In India, surrogacy was estimated to be a $400 million industry, making the risk of exploitation of surrogates a valid and real concern. Now, commercial surrogacy is banned in India and Thailand after allegations that women were often paid only a partial percentage of the amount they had been guaranteed, as well as each country dealing with cases of child abandonment making international headlines. In an infamous story from Thailand, an Australian couple had paid for a surrogate to carry their twins and ended up leaving behind one of the twins once they found out they had Down’s syndrome. As for the abandoned child, they were taken in by the surrogate mother.

In places like Ukraine where surrogacy is still legal, commercial surrogacy offers significant compensation for surrogates. Surrogates are paid around $16,000 for a successful birth, a major payment considering the fact that the annual income in Ukraine is around $3,000. However, the alluring side of international surrogacy as a business comes with a steep price.

These situations have led to a small but still notable number of children who have been left behind as a result of their disabilities. At the moment, there is still a lack of legal protections when it comes to protecting children who have been born through commercial surrogacy. For the most part, care for the abandoned child comes first, meaning that authorities will simply deal with the issue at hand, granting space for abandonment to occur. Another aspect of this situation is that there is little international regulation, which can make it difficult in determining what state they are a citizen from or who is listed as their parents. Bridget’s abandonment, for example, meant that she was considered stateless for a while, but was later legally recognized as a Ukrainian citizen. However, until she is adopted, she will stay at a Children’s home that provides her therapy. If she is not taken out of the system by the age of seven, then she will be relocated to another institution that will not have the therapy services she depends on.