Definition of Surrogacy

Julie Kirk
Hands on the belly of a pregnant woman

If you have been trying to have a baby, surrogacy may be an option to consider if you have not been able to conceive. In general, surrogacy is an arrangement in which a woman becomes pregnant for the sole purpose of carrying and delivering a baby that another individual or couple will raise.

Definition of Surrogacy

Surrogacy is considered a form of assisted reproduction. Assisted reproductive technologies are medical procedures that are used to help treat infertility. Artificial insemination (IUI) and in vitro fertilization (IVF) are also forms of assisted reproductive technology. Understanding the various types of surrogacy can be complicated for someone who is unfamiliar with the process.

Traditional Surrogacy

In traditional surrogacy, the surrogate mother is the child's biological mother. The surrogate mother is artificially inseminated with the sperm of the intended father who will be raising the child. Donor sperm may be used as well. This form of surrogacy may be used if the woman (intended mother) has medical issues that affect her ability to ovulate normally, to carry a pregnancy to term or if she has a serious disease that could potentially be passed to the child. Traditional surrogacy can also be used for same-sex male couples who wish to start a family.

Gestational Surrogacy

In gestational surrogacy, the baby is not biologically related to the surrogate mother. Through in vitro fertilization, the egg of the biological mother is fertilized by the sperm of the biological father. Donor egg and sperm may also be used in certain situations. The fertilized egg (or embryo) is then transferred to the surrogate mother who will then carry the baby to term. This option is often used if the woman (intended mother) is unable to carry a pregnancy to term, by couples with infertility issues, same-sex couples, and single individuals who wish to be parents.

Qualifications of Potential Surrogate Mothers

In many cases, a surrogate mother is a relative or close friend of the couple who is motivated by a sincere desire to help provide others with the joy of parenthood. However, some surrogate mothers are paid for their services. Generally, a woman must meet the following criteria to be considered a good candidate for becoming a surrogate mother:

  • Between 21 and 39 years of age
  • Given birth to one or more children previously, with no complications
  • No history of STDs
  • In good health, with no chronic medical conditions
  • No history of mental illness
  • Average weight for her height
  • Healthy BMI (body mass index) between 18 - 32
  • A non-smoker who lives in a smoke free home
  • No illegal drug use
  • No history of criminal activity
  • No stressful financial issues

The Ethics of Surrogacy

Before deciding to pursue surrogacy as an option for having a child of your own, it's wise to spend some time considering both sides of the issue.

For Surrogacy

Arguments for surrogacy include:

  • The process provides a genetic link between parent and child. Even if the woman is not the child's genetic mother, her husband is the biological father. For many couples, this is considered extremely important.
  • It allows you to avoid common adoption pitfalls. While adopting a child can be a wonderful way to achieve your dream of becoming a parent, the adoption process is rather complicated. It's often difficult to adopt a newborn infant and many older children have physical or emotional issues associated with their early living conditions.
  • It's sometimes the only option available. While most people who use surrogacy to achieve their dreams of parenthood are married heterosexual couples, surrogacy has become popular among gay men who wish to become parents.

Against Surrogacy

Arguments against surrogacy include:

  • It's expensive. In addition to the medical costs, the couple must generally pay for a portion of the surrogate's living expenses. You want to be prepared and have the means to afford the cost of surrogacy so it does not put you into a financial hardship.
  • There are already many children available for adoption. Many people opposed to surrogacy believe couples should be encouraged to consider caring for a child in desperate need of a loving home before engaging in this form of assisted reproduction.
  • It sets the couple up for potential legal problems. For example, Melissa Stern was the subject of a highly publicized custody debate in 1986. Her parents had hired Mary Beth Whitehead as a surrogate mother. After she gave birth, however, Ms. Whitehead refused to give up the child. After several years of legal battles related to the definition of surrogacy, Melissa's biological father was awarded legal custody and Ms. Whitehead was granted visitation rights.

Legalities of Surrogacy

The laws regarding surrogacy agreements between the intended parents and the surrogate mother can vary from state to state. The laws can differ regarding traditional surrogacy and gestational surrogacy as well. If surrogacy is a serious option for you, it is best to find an attorney who is knowledgeable and experienced in reproductive technology law due to the complex nature of surrogacy.

The Importance of Surrogacy

The popularity of surrogacy is consistently growing. Becoming knowledgeable and understanding the medical, emotional and legal stipulations of surrogacy is important prior to starting on the journey. Surrogacy can not only fulfill the wishes of building a family, it can allow individuals and couples to be parents to their own biological children.

Definition of Surrogacy