The war has exposed the vulnerabilities of Ukraine’s surrogacy sector, which has become an increasingly popular option for Swiss couples hoping to have a baby.
This content was published on April 29, 2022 – 09:00
Mercedes Ferreira-Frey and her husband Roland, who live in Switzerland, never imagined they would return home with their long-awaited baby just as war broke out in Europe.
On February 24, the day the Russian invasion began, they were in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, with their newborn son, Cristiano. The doctor did not show up for the appointment to examine the baby. Instead, the couple received a message on their cellphone.
“The road is blocked. I can’t come, ”wrote the doctor.
“A moment later I saw the news and understood that the war had started,” Roland told Swiss public television, RTS.External link.
The couple were lucky because they were able to leave the country with the last convoy from the Swiss Embassy. They returned home safe and sound with their baby.
However, many other newborns remain in Ukraine as their parents attempt to retrieve them. BioTexCom, Kyiv’s largest surrogacy agency, has moved its facilities to an underground bunker, where nurses attend to surrogate babies around the clock.
As the weeks go by, more and more babies are taken to the border, where their parents are waiting. However, of the 52 babies born since the invasion, around 20 are still waiting in the shelter.
According to Global SurrogacyExternal link, an international surrogacy agency, several countries allow surrogacy, including Mexico, Colombia and Canada. Commercial surrogacy is legal in some states in the United States and in the countries of Georgia and Ukraine.
Foreign nationals are allowed to conceive children in Ukraine, as long as they are a married heterosexual couple. It is estimated that more than 2,000 babies are born there through surrogacy each year. Most of them are the children of foreign couples like the Freys.
For couples from Switzerland, where surrogacy is prohibited, Ukraine is the second most popular choice. According to a surveyExternal link commissioned by the Swiss government and led by University of Bern professor Carolin Schurr, approximately 60% of the 28 couples (including single parents) who conceived a child through surrogacy in 2019 chose the United States, followed by Ukraine.
The Swiss Federal ConstitutionExternal link and the federal law on medically assisted procreationExternal link ban surrogacy in Switzerland. With the legalization of same-sex marriage in January 2022, the right of lesbian couples to access donor insemination is also guaranteed, but surrogacy remains illegal.
“There are more options in the United States because same-sex couples and single parents are also accepted,” Schurr explained. “In Ukraine, only heterosexual married couples are allowed [to access surrogacy], but it is cheaper: the cost is about a third compared to the United States. There is also the cultural proximity perceived as an almost European country. Also, the surrogate mothers are white women.
A risky option
Surrogacy offers women whose uterus has been removed due to congenital diseases or cancers, as well as same-sex couples, the possibility of having a child. However, many countries have banned this practice for ethical reasons.
International demand is therefore high – which is why the business of surrogacy for foreign couples is booming in countries like Ukraine – even if the option of surrogacy does not always go smoothly. clashes.
“Cross-border surrogacy always carries a risk,” says Anika König, social and cultural anthropologist at the Free University of Berlin and research associate at the University of Lucerne.
The industry also faced challenges two years ago when the Covid-19 pandemic hit. Due to travel restrictions, parents could not pick up their newborns.
Now, the Russian invasion has forced Ukrainian surrogates to choose between fleeing the country and staying in a war zone. But if they give birth outside the country, there is a risk that their babies will not be legally recognized as the children of their “clients”.
Although a pandemic cannot easily be compared to a war, “both show where there are particularly great risks,” König said. “As soon as border crossings are necessary, this makes arrangements such as surrogacy more vulnerable to crises.”
Protecting the rights of surrogate mothers
A more fundamental problem, however, is that the rights of surrogate mothers are not sufficiently protected in countries like Ukraine, said Schurr, author of the Swiss Surrogacy Survey.
In the Ukrainian surrogacy program, clients from Western countries or China have to pay €40,000-50,000 (CHF 41,000-51,000) before they can hold their baby in their arms.
“Surrogates only get a fraction of that,” Schurr said. Surrogate mothers themselves often suffer from the physical and emotional stress of hormone treatments and pregnancy. “But once the child is born, no one cares about the surrogate.”
A total ban on cross-border surrogacy would not solve the problem, König believes.
“Surrogacy would fly under the radar, making surrogates even more vulnerable,” she said. Instead, it would make more sense to legalize surrogacy in all countries, including Switzerland, and develop clear ethical standards and guidelines to protect the rights of surrogate mothers, children and parents, she added.
International rules are urgently needed and Switzerland should play a leading role in this, according to Schurr. In particular, the rights of surrogate mothers and egg donors must be protected.
“They must be protected from any long-term health and psychological consequences,” she said.
Translated from German by Julia Bassam
Complies with JTI standards
Find out more: SWI swissinfo.ch certified by the Journalism Trust Initiative