Bill Allowing Surrogacy for Israeli Singles, Gay Couples Passes First Hurdle

Health Ministry fears expanding surrogacy law will create a competitive market, creating a 'wombs for hire' profession for poor women.

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The Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved on Sunday an amendment to the surrogacy law which would allow same-sex couples and singles to have babies through surrogacy. The current law stipulates that only heterosexual couples may arrange to have a surrogate bear a child for them; all others are forced to go abroad for surrogacy. Approval from the committee is only one step along the road to becoming a law. The bill is expected to face opposition because of its sensitive nature in regard to ethics, Jewish law and international law.

Last December, Health Minister Yael German announced the introduction of an amendment to the surrogacy law that would give gay and lesbian couples the right to become parents with the aid of surrogate mothers in Israel. The proposed changes were based on the recommendations, submitted in May 2012, of a committee chaired by the director of the National Insurance Institute, Prof. Shlomo Mor-Yosef.

The panel recommended permitting both singles and same-sex couples to use a surrogate in Israel, as well as allowing married women who have given birth in the past to serve as surrogates.

The bill limits each surrogate mother to three surrogate pregnancies, with no more than three in vitro fertilization cycles for each pregnancy. Straight couples would be limited to two children through surrogacy, while singles would be limited to one. The Health Ministry also adopted additional recommendations by the committee, including increasing the maximum age of surrogate mothers from 36 to 38 years. The amendment would limit the age of the prospective parents to 54 years at the time the surrogacy agreement is signed.

German has also declared that she wants to expedite the process of repatriating to Israel infants born abroad through surrogacy. The health, justice, interior and social affairs ministries are to cooperate in amending existing laws and in permitting children born abroad through the agency of approved IVF clinics to be brought into Israel.

Surrogacy is largely unregulated, governed in part by a patchwork of legal precedents and regulations issued by state agencies. When carried out abroad, surrogacy is usually subject to the law of the land in each country, but agreements between Israel and each country also play a part.

In the past, Israel has refused to issue passports to babies born to surrogate mothers in Thailand for Israeli couples, because under Thai law the surrogate mother retains full parental rights. In those cases, the surrogate mother had to sign a statement agreeing to allow the child to be taken to Israel to live with its father.

When the Health Ministry disclosed details of the amendment early last month it was praised by gay rights advocates, but also criticized for requiring couples using surrogacy abroad to use government-licensed agencies or IVF clinics that have been certified by a special committee. couples who pay for the services of intermediary companies licensed by the government or clinics approved by special committees.

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.

The Health Ministry fears that expanding the surrogacy law will create a competitive surrogacy market, which is liable to have two unwanted side effects. High demand would raise the prices of surrogacy in Israel, while surrogacy could become a profession for poor women, effectively turning them into wombs for hire.

According to Health Ministry figures, the number of heterosexual couples seeking surrogacy services and becoming parents through the process rose significantly over the past decade. In 2000, there were 20 applications and six births, while in 2011 these numbers rose to 92 and 49, respectively.

India is a leading centre for surrogate motherhood, partly due to Hinduism's acceptance of the concept. Credit: Reuters

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