The video on the website for BioTexCom, aka the Center for Human Reproduction, features Ukrainian men driving babies born to surrogate mothers to bomb shelters where smiling caregivers cradle the precious cargo and keep the infants safe from Russian firepower. The company wants prospective parents to know that it is doing its utmost to shield these infants amid a war.
This is what the video does not show — the 66-year-old Swedish woman who gave birth to twins after IVF treatment with donor eggs, according to the organization’s website. According to the company’s website, “women in their 40s, 50s, and even 60s have successfully achieved motherhood as a result of BioTexCom’s IVF, surrogacy, and egg donation programs.”
Surrogacy is big business.
“The cheapest surrogacy in Europe is in Ukraine, the poorest European country,” BioTexCom explains.
“Ukraine is one of relatively few countries that offer surrogacy services to foreigners,” The New York Times reports. “By some estimates, its industry is the largest in the world; lawyers involved in the business say about 500 women are now pregnant in Ukraine as surrogate mothers for foreign clients.”
There’s big money in baby farming, notes Jennifer Lahl, a former pediatric nurse who started the Center for Bioethics and Culture, and she warns, “There’s plenty of bad actors in big fertility.”
The arrangement is an invitation of exploitation — with affluent couples (or individuals) paying women who need money to bear children in poor countries at their own risk. To be clear: The blame lies with the well-off parents-to-be, not the women who carry their children out of financial desperation.
CBC warns of the unknown consequences of “the exploitation of poor and low-income women desperate for money,” as well as “the moral and ethical consequences of transforming a normal biological function of a woman’s body into a commercial transaction.”
It’s not clear what will happen to the surrogate infants of Ukraine. When COVID-19 hit two years ago, travel restrictions prevented hopeful parents from picking up newborns for as long as a year — which affected surrogacy arrangements across the globe.
Now war is keeping would-be parents from collecting their children.
Couples who want to adopt Ukrainian children face the same hurdles — but they are trying to unite with children who have been orphaned or abandoned and need the security of a permanent home. Their adoptive parents didn’t set out to have designer babies in rented wombs without thinking through all the things that can go wrong.
Without war, things go wrong in surrogacy cases all the time. Sometimes, would-be parents don’t warm to the product they thought they were buying.
Lahl mentions one famous case involving “Baby Gammy.” The boy, who has Down syndrome and other health problems, was left behind in Thailand where he was born, while Australian parents Wendy and David Farnell took the healthy twin sister home. Later, it was learned that David Farnell had 22 child sex convictions, Australia’s ABC News reported.
Baby farming is an industry, but also, Lahl notes, the Wild West.
Since Russia attacked Ukraine, the world has seen the devastating effects on children — as they’ve endured bombs, bullets, depravation and a painstaking slog just to get someplace safe.
The children of surrogates face additional uncertainty — because the laws in Ukraine and the countries to which they have been moved have to figure out which adults have rights to a child under which set of laws. For some children, it could be another long slog of a nightmare.
For the surrogate babies of Ukraine, one thing remains the same: They’re still being treated like a commodity.