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Surrogacy in the modern post Christian world

As Máire Ní Mhaoine pointed out last week, there are gaping moral lacunae surrounding the attitude of prosperous westerners to surrogacy. Barely a week goes by when there is not some happy clappy soft news piece about a pop culture figure who has announced that they are either “pregnant” or have just “given birth.”  All the better if the “parents” in question are of the same sex. 

Maria evinces her own curiosity about the actual mother and how she might be coping having borne the child in her womb for nine months, and then being “reduced to the ‘surrogate,’ unseen and unheard, without a name or a face.”  Which is the general attitude taken by whoever reports on such miracles. 

Other than it might occur to the more “socially aware” and hip to the intersectionality of the common oppression and needs of millionaire gay men and women living in the slums of south east Asia or Nairobi to ask if the mother is enjoying her new headphones or Nikes.

What if, however, the mother does not disappear? That, it seems, is what has happened in the case of Ivanna Holbu, who was the surrogate mother for an Irish couple, Cathy and Keith Wheatley with whom she now lives along with her own children who she did not sell. She came here to live with them as a refugee from Ukraine.

Ivanna Holub – Growing FamiliesGrowing Families

None of this by the way is an uninvited or prurient intrusion into anyone’s lives. Ms. Holub has given a number of interviews here regarding her situation. She also continues to advertise herself as a potential surrogate mother on the Growing Families website. Growing Families describes itself as a “not-for-profit” who have assisted over 3,000 single people and couples since being founded by Australian, Sam Everingham.

Like many a “not-for-profit” they do charge for various services including consultancy and management. It is also apparent that surrogacy in Ukraine is very much seen as a commercial business. Everingham recently published a piece on the PET site for “Fertility, Genomics, Clarity,” entitled “Reproductive Refugees – The effect of the Russian invasion on cross-border reproductive care.”

In it, Everingham describes the scale and importance of this business to Ukraine, and to the companies there with whom it is in relationships with, and in which “by 2019, the nation was churning out 37,000 IVF cycles annually, a 57 percent increase compared to two years prior. At the time of the invasion, Ukraine had as many as 60 IVF clinics, 500 fertility specialists and 200 embryologists. When bombs starting falling, Ukraine’s embryology labs housed well over 800,000 embryos oocytes.”

Ukraine has become the leading surrogacy hub for both western European and Chinese clients since the clampdown on surrogacy in many Asian countries. Illegal surrogacy in south east Asia was the main reason cited for this, but it was still estimated in 2020 by a Ukrainian legal expert that “two-thirds of the surrogacy market in Ukraine is illegal.”

Even where it is legal, as in the cases facilitated by the companies operating in Ireland, the benefit to the actual “egg donor” calculated at between $11,500 and $13,500, is at most a third of the overall fee charged to clients. The attraction is of course that this is a large amount of money in a country where the average monthly wage is less than €300.  

While the impression is given that most Ukrainians regard surrogacy as some great national achievement, it is viewed with less favour by others. In May 2020 President Zelensky’s own commissioner for children’s rights, Mykola Kuleba, described surrogacy as a form of “children trafficking,” and called for it to be banned.

Mykola Kuleba: Commercial surrogate motherhood is a legalized trafficking in persons that should be banned in Ukraine (idemocracy.world)

Ukraine’s attractiveness to companies such as Growing Families is that unlike countries where surrogacy operates under “altruistic frameworks” which limit their “capacity to recruit and properly screen surrogates,” that Ukraine has a large population of fertile females who can supply “low cost, high quality IVF.”  No, this is not from the Farmers Journal or the thoroughbred section of the Racing Post.

One of the interesting conclusions to be taken from all of the above is that there is now a clear premium on having Ukrainian “egg donors” on site, as it were, for at least as long as the conflict and refugee supply continues. Which of course raises the possibility that surrogacy for Irish and other relatively prosperous clients will become much less impersonal and that Ireland and other western European states will be hosting its very own imported egg source. Which presumably will lead to the need to again change the laws here to facilitate demand.

Were, hypothetically speaking, a Ukrainian woman who advertises herself as such a commodity to decide to continue in the business while residing as a refugee in an EU state, would she or the companies or clients accessing such a service be breaking the law? As things stand they surely would be.

Apart from all of that, it is surely a bizarre situation – no offence intended to anyone concerned – that the person who has borne a child is now living in the same house as those children but that the children presumably do not know of the circumstances of their coming into the world. It also raises fundamental issues about the intimate existential relationships between human beings. A relationship that the western tradition, based on Christianity, ceased being a directly commercial bond more than one thousand years ago.

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