Doctors are planning what will be the first surrogate birth on the NHS, it emerged yesterday, as the British Medical Association endorsed surrogacy as an acceptable treatment for infertility.
John Parsons, director of the Assisted Conception Unit at King's College Hospital, London, said he was negotiating a deal under which a health authority may pay for a surrogacy "package"for one of its patients.
The cost of the surrogate birth - in which a woman bears a child for another and agrees to give it up at birth - would include an initial assessment of the intended parents and the surrogate; all medical interventions including IVF treatments if necessary; counselling, insurance, and the usual compensatory payment of between pounds 7-pounds 10,000 to the surrogate.
Mr Parsons would not reveal the identity of the health authority or the potential surrogate mother. The woman who will be the "social mother" suffered a major medical trauma which left her unable to carry a child, he said.
Speaking at the launch of a BMA guide on surrogacy for health professionals - Changing Conceptions of Motherhood: The Practice of Surrogacy in Britain - Mr Parsons urged all health authorities to follow suit. "If it is the only way a couple can have a child then the NHS should pay," he said.
The King's Unit is one of a handful of fertility centres with an interest in surrogacy. Mr Parsons, who in 1985 treated Kim Cotton, the first woman in Britain to enter into a commercial surrogate arrangement, refers up to five couples a year to agencies which put couples in touch with women willing to be surrogates.
The BMA, which in the1980s advised doctors not to get involved in any surrogacy arrangements, said yesterday it had revised its position to reflect the growing public acceptance of surrogacy, and the rise in numbers of couples wanting a doctor's help with surrogacy arrangements.
Dr Fleur Fisher, under-secretary of the BMA, said that surrogacy is a minefield of potential traumas, and participants were entitled to the best medical, ethical and legal advice, and expert psychological counselling.
Dr Fisher also called on the Department of Health to regulate and monitor the activity of voluntary surrogate agencies.
Surrogacy, as a non-profit making venture, is not illegal in the UK, although commercial surrogacy was prohibited following the birth of "Baby Cotton". However, it is still essentially an underground operation with the estimated 100 couples who want to try it each year making private arrangements, and going to extraordinary lengths to conceal them.
There are two recognised surrogacy agencies used by couples. The best known is Cots (Childlessness Overcome Through Surrogacy) run by Ms Cotton, who yesterday welcomed the BMA's move to "remove the stigma from surrogacy". Cots has overseen 150 surrogate births since 1988.
But according to Ann Sommerville, head of ethics at the BMA, the "good- hearted volunteers" who staff voluntary agencies must be regulated.
Ms Sommerville also criticised the dearth of reliable information on surrogacy in Britain.
9 Changing Conceptions of Motherhood: The Practice of Surrogacy in Britain, is available, price pounds 6.95, from the BMA on 0171 387 4499. A leaflet dealing with the most common questions on surrogacy is available free from the Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority, Paxton House, 30 Artillery Lane, London E1 7LS.Reuse content