Tim is a Queensland GP. He and his wife, Kate, a 38-year-old teacher, are ready to break Queensland law. I met them last month. Kate had undertaken seven IVF attempts – only two had been successful, but both resulted in miscarriages. Diagnosed with endometriosis and haemachromatosis, her physician is finally recommending surrogacy – another woman to carry her child for her. It is a process which is becoming increasingly common for those who cannot carry a child themselves. Given her age, Kate knows donor eggs may be required if she is ever to create children.
Australian states have gone to valiant efforts to make surrogacy accessible in Australia. Some of the processes reflect best practice – mandatory counselling, both legal and psychological, for example. But other aspects make it tough – an absence of surrogate matching services and tight restrictions on surrogate expenses in some states. (In a recent published study of Australian community attitudes, there was significant support for professionals to help recruit, screen and manage the surrogacy process).
So couples like Tim and Kate are loathe to attempt to find a surrogate in Australia. No relatives have offered and Kate would feel uncomfortable about accepting such generosity, without being able to compensate her surrogate. They are also worried about negotiating the boundaries between their surrogate and child post-birth.
Enter overseas surrogacy. The global economy and preparedness of thousands of Australians to travel means ‘cross-border’ surrogacy arrangements are increasingly common. The latest estimates put the number of Australian children created via surrogacy at well over 2500.
While Queensland, New South Wales and the ACT each have punitive laws in place outlawing overseas surrogacy, each of these governments knows it would be political suicide to charge, detain and worse, lock up a new parent. Their laws have never been policed. A number of parents have shown off their newborns in major newspaper stories. No authorities have come knocking.
But the overseas options continue to change. Thailand, India, Nepal and Cambodia – destinations once popular with Australians, have all banned foreigners. Many intended parents are having to rethink their plans. With hundreds of Australians burned by rapid policy changes in Asian countries, more are choosing to engage in countries with protective laws in place – some US states, Canada, Greece and Ukraine in particular.
Melbourne couple Chris and Katie Newton’s first child Archie was born in India in 2010. But India’s freeze on surrogacy for foreigners stymied their plans for a second child. Undeterred, they eventually turned to Canada and twins Augustus and Taj, were born in Alberta in 2016.
US states such as California and Oregon remain superior in regard to good surrogate screening and support along with leading IVF techniques. But cost pressures have also created hybrid programs, where US surrogates are flown to cheaper destinations such as Cyprus, Mexico and India to undertake IVF processes and embryo transfer. Meanwhile Canada has been in such high demand that many Australians are waiting 6 -18 months to match with a Canadian surrogate.
Chris, along with fifteen other Australian parents and surrogates will share their own journeys in Australia, US, Canada and Asia – at Families Through Surrogacy’s annual conference on 3-4 June in Melbourne. Amidst the talks, food and socialising, singles and couples will be engaging with expert doctors, lawyers, psychologists and agencies to making the most vital decisions of their lives – how to build a family.
To find out more, go to familiesthrusurrogacy.com/australia Weekend passes start from $120 per person, including lunches and evening drinks.