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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Gay Couple in UK Starts Surrogacy Service for Same Sex Families

By Kilian Melloy -

Recent headlines have made much of Sir Elton John and his husband, David Furnish, becoming proud new parents. But Elton and Furnish had the means to use an American surrogacy service, the Encino, Calif.-based Center for Surrogate Parenting.

Now other gay and lesbian families in Britain who wish to use surrogacy to answer their call to parenthood will have help close to home--thanks to the UK’s first gay surrogate parents, Tony and Barrie Drewitt-Barlow, who live in Essex.

British newspaper the Telegraph reported on Dec. 29 that the Drewitt-Barlows plan on a February opening for The British Surrogacy Center. The article says that the couple promise their new service will be "a center for all things surrogacy," and the new resource will have trans-Atlantic reach, with an American office in California.

The two offices will be able to coordinate and match up surrogates, donors, and parents from both America and the UK.

The Drewitt-Barlows themselves used an American surrogacy agency when they embarked on their quest to become fathers. In 1999, the couple became Britain’s first parents to have used surrogacy. Using eggs from a donor, and a surrogate mother, they welcomed twin daughters Aspen and Saffron into the world a decade ago.

In that time, their family has grown to include three more children--and soon, the couple will help untold more families achieve their dreams of parenthood.

In a separate article on Elton John and David Furnish’s decision to use surrogacy, the Telegraph reported that Center for Surrogate Parenting also has a second office, located in Annapolis, Maryland. The center was started three decades ago and in that time it has helped bring more than 1,400 children into the lives of couples who have used its services. Same-sex couples head about a third of those families, the article said.

The article said that Elton John and David Furnish are speculated to have used gestational surrogacy, in which a donor’s eggs are implanted in another woman. The cost of the procedure is close to $100,000.

Barrie Drewitt-Barlow credited the pop star’s use of surrogacy with ""help[ing] the gay parenting cause greatly."

Depending on where it is done, surrogacy can be a legally fraught undertaking. A Canadian lesbian couple and the sperm donor who helped them conceive found themselves in a feud over parental rights a year ago--and at the forefront of that country’s family law.

Because Canadian law does not permit monetary exchange for sperm donations, all but one of the nation’s sperm banks have shut down. That leaves lesbian couples that wish to conceive on their own to find a donor, but when they solicit genetic material from friends, they sometimes find themselves entering a legal quagmire.

In the case of the British Columbia couple, who obtained a donation from a male friend, the initial agreement was that the man would relinquish his rights as a father. But when the man began to come around often and to refer to the baby boy as his son, the couple saw it as a breach of contract and took him to court.

The outcome could have lasting repercussions for family law in cases where a child is conceived using donated sperm. The lack of existing law and precedent makes for "murky situations," according to Infertility Network executive director Diane Allen, reported the Canadian National Post on Jan. 8. Allen cited children of sperm donors who say that they have a right to know about their biological heritage--and to form relationships with their fathers.

"For the lesbian couple, I can certainly understand why they feel threatened and that their parenting is being interfered with," Allen told the media. "But what are they going to tell that child down the road? Are they going to say they didn’t want the child’s father in his life? What about what the child’s needs and wants?"

When the Assisted Human Reproduction Act outlawed monetary exchange for sperm donations six years ago, Canadian Fertility and Andrology Society spokesperson Dr. Roger Pierson said, "it closed all but one sperm bank in the country. So if friends start doing things on their own, and you have a female from one province and a male from another, it can be problematic."

In an American case from around the same time, a gay couple in New Jersey lost custody of their twin daughters to the surrogate they had employed, despite the fact that the girls were the product of gestational surrogacy, meaning that the eggs used for their conception were not the surrogate’s own, and she has no genetic relation to the girls.

The surrogate, Angelia G. Robinson, was the sister of Donald Robinson Hollingsworth, who was one of the fathers. The girls were conceived in vitro in 2006 using a donated ovum and sperm provided by Sean Hollingsworth, the husband of Mr. Hollingsworth. The fertilized ovum was then implanted in Ms. Robinson, who carried the twin girls to term.

The girls were born in October of 2006, and were given into the care of the male couple, who live in Jersey City. But the following March, Ms. Robinson took her brother and his husband to court, claiming she had been forced to serve as the surrogate, and seeking custody of the girls.

The court decision awarding Ms. Robinson recognition as the legal mother drew on precedent established in a 1988 case involving a traditional surrogate, whose own egg was fertilized in vivo through artificial insemination using sperm from a man who was part of a couple seeking to become parents. That case was settled by the New Jersey Supreme Court, which upheld the traditional surrogate’s rights as the genetic parent.

"The surrogacy contract is based on principles that are directly contrary to the objectives of our laws," the 1988 ruling said. "It guarantees the separation of a child from its mother; it looks to adoption regardless of suitability; it totally ignores the child; it takes the child from the mother regardless of her wishes and maternal fitness."

Superior Court Judge Francis B. Schultz referred to the earlier ruling, posing the question in his decision, "Would it really make any difference if the word ’gestational’ was substituted for the word ’surrogacy’ in the above quotation? I think not."

Court cases involving gestational surrogates have found against the surrogates in a number of states, though a case in Michigan found for the surrogate, the article said. If the New Jersey decision withstands appeal, "that suggests that gestational surrogacy is not as different from traditional surrogacy as we’ve always interpreted it to be," said Suffolk University Law School professor Charles P. Kindregan, who specializes in reproductive technology law.

The ruling has the potential to complicate the already-complex laws in New Jersey regarding surrogacy. Among other requirements, New Jersey law stipulates that surrogates may not receive a fee for carrying children, and imposes a three-day period before the surrogate gives the child over to the intended parents.

Ms. Robinson hailed the decision as "one more step in helping to insure stability and peace in the lives of our girls."

Ms. Robinson’s lawyer, Harold J. Cassidy--who also represented the plaintiff in the 1988 case--praised the ruling, declaring that surrogacy is "an exploitation of women."

The Hollingsworth’s attorney, Alan S. Modlinger, noted that the decision could impact gay and lesbian families--especially families headed by two men--who must often resort to methods such as surrogacy. Moreover, parenting as a social and legal option is on the uptick for same-sex couples, as marriage equality makes fitful advances, noted an Aug. 11, 2008 Associated Press article.
Kilian Melloy reviews media, conducts interviews, and writes commentary for EDGEBoston, where he also serves as Assistant Arts Editor.

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