Gay Israeli Couple Received Wrong Baby From Surrogate Mother in Nepal

Surrogacy agency apologizes for ‘rare human error in lab’ after tissue test reveals mix-up.

Surrogate babies being brought from Nepal to Israel, April 2015.
Ofer Vaknin

Several weeks after completing the surrogate birth process in Nepal, a gay Israeli couple learned that the baby girl they’d been told was theirs and had been caring for is not their daughter.

The error was revealed by the routine tissue testing all Israeli couples who use a surrogate abroad must undergo to prove the baby’s biological link to one of the parents. The tests are conducted by Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer and take several weeks to complete. Only when the results are received can the parents finalize the baby’s paperwork and bring him or her back to Israel.

In this case, the testing revealed that there was no biological link between the parents and the baby. The men had to hand her over to her actual parents, who had also been waiting for a surrogate birth in the same Nepalese hospital. Now they are waiting for another surrogate mother to give birth to determine if the baby she’s carrying belongs to them.

The couple used the Tammuz International Surrogacy agency for the surrogacy process. Last month the agency told them the birth was imminent and the two men flew to Nepal.

The Tammuz agency, which works with surrogates in the Far East, the United States and Mexico, said in a statement, “We understand the parents’ distress and the difficult situation in which they find themselves. The company is closely accompanying the parents through the process and has made a psychologist available to them to help them cope.

“When the matter became known the company conducted a thorough investigation that showed there had been a rare human error in the lab in Nepal, and as a result we have learned some lessons. Tammuz works with the most advanced personnel in the surrogacy field, has faultlessly helped hundreds of families realize their dreams of becoming parents, and will continue to help in the future with a full commitment to preventing such things from happening again.”

Dana Magdassi, founder of Lotus Surrogacy, another surrogacy agency in Israel, said “This is a very serious human error, but it does not happen only abroad. I think that abroad it happens much less frequently because doctors know that at the end of the process there must be genetic testing so they are extremely careful. I’m sure that it happens during fertilization processes in Israel as well, but since there is no need for genetic testing, it can’t be proven.” Lotus also works with surrogates in Nepal, but had nothing to do with this case.

Surrogacy procedures in the Far East have periodically made headlines when tragedies occurred. In May last year, nine days after the serious earthquake in Nepal, a premature baby born to a couple via a surrogate died in the makeshift clinic that was set up outside the hospital in Katmandu, which was damaged by the earthquake. The baby boy was one of twins; his sister survived. In September 2014, a baby boy born to an Israeli couple via a surrogate mother in Thailand died only a few hours after birth, and the couple battled to bring him to Israel for burial. In the end they were forced to cremate his body and bring the ashes to Israel.

In August, Nepal’s Supreme Court banned launching any new surrogacy procedures for foreigners. The ruling came in response to a petition arguing that surrogacy exploits poor women. Surrogate births to Israeli couples who began the process before the ruling are expected through April.

Israelis began using surrogates in Nepal around two-and-a-half years ago, in the absence of any laws blocking the process. The first births there took place in early 2014. It took a year for the Nepalese government to regulate surrogate births to foreigners. The cabinet there approved a process that stresses medical issues and set the conditions for implementing the procedure; for example, it permitted only foreign women to serve as surrogates. As a result, the surrogate mothers who give birth in Nepal are not Nepalese citizens, but women who come from neighboring India.

After Nepal followed India and Thailand in blocking foreigners from going through the surrogacy process there, the U.S. and Mexico remain the only countries that permit the process for same-sex couples. A surrogate birth in the U.S. costs between $100,000 and $150,000, two to three times what it costs in East Asia.