Russian ban on surrogacy would be disaster for infertile couples
A Bill to ban the use of surrogate mothers which was submitted to the State Duma last March has caused a lot of controversy. As the Bill’s First Reading originally scheduled for 10 January did not take place, its supporters will now take it to the spring session of Parliament.
The Senator behind the Bill, Anton Belyakov from Vladimir oblast, has compared commercial surrogacy to prostitution, saying the practice “is immoral and damaging to both mother and child”. According to Belyakov, Russia is now the centre of “reproductive tourism”. On the other hand, the help of a surrogate mother for couples who are unable to have children for certain medical reasons is the only way they can ever become parents.
However, there is opposition to the Bill including among officials. “The birth of any child is always a blessing! I believe that far from bringing an end to surrogacy, the ban will only succeed in driving the practice underground. Legislation which allows for the development of new fundamental approaches that protect the rights of children, parents and surrogate mothers is essential in tackling this issue”, said Ksenia Mishonova, Moscow region’s Children’s Rights Ombudswoman, on VKontakte’s official website. In an interview with the “360” television channel, Mishonova said that such a ban would deal a body blow to women who are unable to have children.
Medical conditions are usually the main reason why infertile couples cannot have children. Doctors have a long list of contra-indications for women who suffer from chronic diseases. Even women who have a non-life threatening hypertensive illness cannot carry a child.
“There are also a number of gynaecological reasons, e.g. complex myomas which require the removal of the uterus and severe forms of endometriosis where a woman has a hysterectomy at a reproductive age. Such situations can sometimes arise as a result of an unfortunate midwife experience. For example, an unsuccessful pregnancy can result in loss of the uterus. The help of surrogate mothers is the only way these young women can ever have children. The ovaries remain once the uterus has been removed which means women are still able to conceive. Sadly, they are unable to carry a child and so decide to enlist the help of a surrogate mother”, said Ekaterina Bolshakova, a gynaecologist-obstetrician, Candidate of Medical Sciences, head of the Family Health Centre Enotera and specialist with the Light in the Hand charity speaking to the Agency for Social Information.
Bolshakova went on to say that surrogacy is the only route open to a lot of women of a certain age who want to have children. However, for the most part, women of childbearing age are still resorting to the help of surrogate mothers.
Surrogate mother services are not available to all. The list of services includes fertilisation, medical tests and examinations, the stay of a surrogate mother in clinics and maternity hospitals, assistance with the baby’s delivery, vitamins and food required during pregnancy and monthly payments to cover the pregnancy term (the sum is stipulated in the contract and can amount to 30 – 50,000 roubles). A couple usually ends up paying between 1.5 and 2 million roubles.
The Sweetchild company and the Formula of Birth charity ran a competition last November for infertile couples who cannot afford to pay for a surrogate mother’s services. The winners could take part in the surrogate programme free of charge. According to the organisers, the aim of the competition was to draw attention to the problem of fertility and to prove that there are companies and charities in Russia who are willing to help families have a child. The winners of the competition were a St Petersburg couple, Julia and Alexei Kondratyeva. Their letter was chosen from among the 200 that were submitted for the chance to take part in the programme.
Here are extracts from some of the competition letters:
Letters of hope
Julia, aged 28
“Our turn came in April 2014 when we were given our IVF quota. They replaced the embryo at the beginning of June that year and a few weeks later, my husband and I finally saw the second long-awaited strip on the test results. But later, I was hospitalised twice as a high-risk pregnancy but having the ultrasound scan and looking at my baby, seeing it grow and listening to its heartbeat, it was possible to forget the whole hospital nightmare. Then in August, 12 weeks into the pregnancy, I had to go and see the gynaecologist to be signed off from the doctor’s care, only to learn the news I never wanted to hear “Your baby’s heart isn’t beating”.
An ultrasound was done on my arrival at hospital and was followed by a gynaecological examination which confirmed the missing pregnancy without any other complications. The doctor suggested a curettage procedure and told me I would have to go home the same day after it was done. The doctor didn’t pay any attention to my temperature. After waiting for 4.5 hours, the doctor performed the curettage procedure. Afterwards, I could hardly move. I felt awful and asked for someone to bring me a thermometer. It registered 39.5 degrees. The doctor came back several hours later and said that I had to sign a refusal form to remove the uterus in order for it to be saved. I was horrified to hear this and naturally signed the form. No-one had actually told me anything about this and I could not believe how things had got so far.
The doctor returned 5-10 minutes later and told me I was going to have an operation to remove the uterus. As it later turned out, the curettage procedure had been undertaken without any reference to the test results. Antibiotics weren’t administered before, during or after, as well as a lot of other things. The next day, I was taken into the sepsis resuscitation room after my lungs had failed and hooked up to a ventilation machine. I was in intensive care for a week. My mother, having seen everything I had gone through as well as the pain and despair in my eyes, offered to act as a surrogate mother to me. I later came to realise just how far parents are prepared to go to ensure their child is happy”.
Elena, aged 28
“I was five-years old when the doctors diagnosed cystic fibrosis. This is a serious genetic disease of the internal organs which mainly affects the respiratory system. There is no known cure but timely and effective therapy can make sufferers feel better and helps prolong lives.
I am now a 28-year old married woman. My partner and I have wanted a baby for ages but nothing has happened so far – the reason is within me. It is very difficult for me to go through a full pregnancy with such a disease as the lung function fails, you don’t get enough oxygen, and there is always the risk of lung infection. Antibiotics can only deal with infections for so long. In severe cases, sufferers can experience pains in the lungs, breathing difficulties and a persistent cough. In addition, my fallopian tubes are blocked and there are adhesions and follicular cysts on the ovaries. As a result, I cannot rely on my own strength to get through an entire pregnancy. What we really want is our own special miracle”.
Ksenia, aged 41
“I have been married for 15 years. I really wanted to get pregnant but never managed it despite five years of trying. Then during an examination, the doctor said that I had a uterine myoma and a cyst on my right ovary which required urgent surgery. I had an operation to remove the uterus and right ovary on 15 December 1999 when I was only 23 years old. When the doctor told me on being discharged that I wouldn’t be able to have children the bottom fell out of my world. I thought my life was over. At that moment, I didn’t want to go on living.
But I have a lot to thank my husband for. He has always been there for me and didn’t give up during the difficult times. We both went back for tests in 2013. My husband was fine and my left ovary was ready to be fertilised. The doctor told us that we could try and find a surrogate mother to have our child”.
Tatiana, aged 29
“I have been married for seven years. I can never have children because of a congenital abnormality, namely absence of a uterus. Being a mother is to be so happy! Oh, if I could only hear the baby’s long-awaited initial cry and feel this sacred bond and remember such a moment forever!”
According to RT television, increases in the number of children born to surrogate mothers are recorded annually with the information recorded in a report produced by the Russian Association of Human Reproduction. In 2015, there was an increase of 41% in the number of surrogate births compared to the same period in 2014. The transfer of embryos to surrogate mothers that year resulted in 1,539 cycles, 712 pregnancies and 508 births (starting from 22 weeks).
By happy coincidence, all sides are happy. Those behind the Bill say that current surrogacy services in Russia are carried out according to standard civil law agreements that allow for the consolidation of the rights and duties of those involved but with no guarantees that these will be strictly enforced.