Same-sex couples would have the right to use a surrogate in Israel under a government-sponsored bill whose first draft was released over the weekend.
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The Health Ministry proposal has won accolades from gay rights advocates, but is also being criticized for restricting the use of surrogacy abroad to couples who pay for the services of intermediary companies licensed by the government or clinics approved by special committees.
The bill, which seeks to regulate surrogacy abroad for the first time, states that those who use surrogates abroad without going through an approved intermediary could face one year in prison.
Until now, Israeli couples have been able to use surrogates in other countries without paying the tens of thousands of shekels usually charged by surrogacy agencies.
“This law is a disgrace,” said Ilan Seinfeld, a single father of 2-year-old twins born through surrogacy in India. “Instead of the government trying to create equality, it is creating the opposite.”
Seinfeld, 54, independently paid an Indian woman 250,000 shekels ($70,000) for the surrogacy.
“Theoretically, Health Minister Yael German’s intention to improve the surrogacy law is a good thing. It is meant to create equality in a place where there is none,” Seinfeld wrote on his Facebook page. “In practice, this proposition is going to destroy the chances of people like me to bring children into the world through surrogacy, or make us criminals who could face a year in prison.”
Etai Pinkas, who heads the LGBT Pride Center in Tel Aviv and is a city council member who, along with his partner Yoav Arad, petitioned the Supreme Court to allow same-sex couples to have children through surrogacy in Israel, said he welcomes both elements of the bill.
"If there is strict supervision over the agencies — both in terms of the price they charge and the service they provide — it will ultimately be for the good of the couples or singles who turn to surrogacy," said Pinkas. He and Arad have three children born through surrogacy: twins born in India and a baby girl born in Thailand.
The first draft of the bill was published by the Health Ministry legal adviser, Mira Hivner-Harel, and the bill will be open to suggestions from the public for three weeks.
The legislation process for this bill is expected to take quite some time, due to the sensitivity and complexity of the issue.
Citing problems with surrogacy in Thailand, the bill states that the intermediary agency must describe to prospective clients the surrogacy services in the desired country and must attest that the prospective parents will be viewed by that country as the parents of a child born through surrogacy and will be allowed to take the child out of the country.
In the past, Israel has withheld passports from Israeli couples in Thailand because Thai law grants full parental rights to the surrogate. In the past, the surrogate mother had to sign a statement agreeing to allow the child to be taken to Israel to live with its father.
The bill proposes that women between the ages of 22 and 38 will be allowed to be surrogates, but states that women cannot serve as surrogates more than three times or before they have two of their own children. Under the bill, the parents cannot be older than 54 when the agreement is signed.