COVID-19 and Surrogacy — The Center for Bioethics and Culture

We are quickly approaching the second anniversary of what was the start of a virus that has wrecked our mental and physical health, invaded our safety and comfort, ruined our economy and personal finances, and forever impacted our lives and our world. At the start of the pandemic Jennifer and I were closely following news reports in parts of the world, like the Ukraine, where babies were stranded due to the travel bans in place as part of COVID-19 safety measures. We still think about those babies daily.

COVID-19 and Surrogacy — The Center for Bioethics and Culture

As you know, international surrogacy operations exist for two main reasons. One, it’s illegal in the intended parent(s) country of origin. Two, it’s cheap and ‘easy’ (meaning the laws are lax and don’t protect surrogate mothers or the children the bare). Places like the Ukraine have become baby buying hot-spots. COVID-19, as it did with most things, wreaked havoc on the international surrogacy industry and exposed the ethical concerns we have been addressing since day one.  

It’s unclear how many babies were stranded in hospitals or hotels with nurses, nannies, surrogate families or even strangers during the last year- or for how long. An Oregon-based lawyer who represents intended parents, estimates that at least two hundred babies were stuck in the United States alone.1 These babies were cared for by a makeshift web of surrogates, relatives, baby nurses, and Good Samaritans.1 One YouTube video, viewed over 2 million times, showed over 40 screaming babies all sharing one hotel room in the Ukraine, stranded without the devoted motherly love and care they all deserve. Another source stated that over 500 infants were deserted in the Ukraine alone, but the “true number is hard to know due to the nature of the business”.2

In 2015, Thailand made commercial surrogacy illegal. Unfortunately, that didn’t stop greedy and shady people from monetizing off women and children. It was reported that “illegal surrogate babies were been abandoned in Thailand due to the COVID-19 travel bans”.3 Thankfully, criminal investigations are being pursued by authorities.3 Again, no reports on the number of children left homeless. 

Some of these babies are over a year old and are still living in limbo

Can you imagine being born, possibly whisked away from the only home you’ve known to live in a place only until your “biological” parents come and get what they purchased? Babies, little humans, striped down to an unclaimed product. I know, I know, if COVID-19 didn’t happen this wouldn’t be a concern. But it did and I hope to God it has made people think about how we have commodified children. 

One editorial I read did give me the slightest bit of hope. In June, Cari Shane wrote an article in Fortune claiming a reduced number of women willing to become surrogate mothers post-pandemic.  Tina Dettlaff, from Surrogacy Experience was quoted, “The number of women exploring gestational surrogacy has dramatically decreased”… “more than a 60% decrease from previous years.”

I’d like to think that this pandemic has made us wiser and has taught us to value friends, family, health and life- even the life of a baby caught in the crossfires of unethical international surrogacy arrangements.

  1. https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/the-stranded-babies-of-the-coronavirus-disaster
  2. https://biotexcom.com/video-over-500-surrogate-babies-abandoned-in-ukraine-after-wealthy-foreign-parents-barred-from-entering-country-over-coronavirus/
  3. http://www.thailawforum.com/blog/surrogate-babies-abandoned-during-covid-crisis

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