Surrogate mothers are worth more than this

For the woman who went through the twin birth to receive only 10 per cent of the fee seems a bit skewed
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The Independent Online

Tony and Barrie Drewitt-Barlow are having another baby. The couple inspired huge controversy when one fathered Saffron and the other fathered Aspen, through the kind and financially rewarded agency of the American egg-donor Tracie McCune and the American surrogate mother Rosalind Bellamy.

Now they are expecting Orlando, which will surely leave Saffron feeling hard done by. How come she's the only sibling who hasn't been named after a high-profile holiday destination? Isn't that going to make her feel really different to the other children?

Though Orlando will be different too, as it happens. There's a new surrogate mother on the scene for this new addition to the family, an unnamed Japanese woman who lives in San Francisco.

The Drewitt-Barlows fell out with Ms Bellamy some while ago. It has been reported that the couple sued her after she tried to increase her £20,000 fee after the birth. The two men now say that the rift was caused when Ms Bellamy sold her story to a tabloid newspaper. (Which is rich considering that the Drewitt-Barlows talked in a recent interview of six-figure sums for their stories and selling first pictures of Orlando to the press.)

Either way, the argument was over money, and I have to say that you can see Ms Bellamy's point. Yes, yes, the idea of trading money for babies is rich in "yuk factor" and it's always been considered dreadfully bad form to renege on an agreed financial deal of any kind. But on the other hand, Ms Bellamy couldn't quite have known what she was getting herself into. Her name is now known around the world. Further, she probably didn't know, until the media told her, how rich the two multimillionaire men were and how much they'd spent on securing their towheaded treasures overall. For the woman who went through the actual twin pregnancy and birth to receive only 10 per cent of the fee for the creation of the twins seems a bit skewed. Who gave more time, care and physical effort? Nobody. Who made more profit? Somebody did, when you consider that a further £180,000 was splashed out on the process, even though the lion's share of the baby-making activity was most certainly undertaken by Ms Bellamy.

Any woman who has experienced pregnancy and birth understands what a wonder it is, and how close it makes you feel to the person who once did this amazing thing for you. When Saffron herself falls pregnant, it is Ms Bellamy as much as Ms McCune that she will feel gratitude and empathy towards. It's a fine and important thing to be a surrogate mother, and it's surely as important for a child to maintain links with a surrogate as it is a biological parent.

Oddly though in this world which puts a price on almost everything, it's considered grubby and unethical to be a surrogate mother, unless you undertake the task for love and compassion, not profit and money. But when you see the huge sums flying around in pursuit of 21st-century families, you start to wonder if all this isn't just a new flowering of the traditional resentment against the uncomfortable idea that all women are sitting on goldmines, and can only be allowed to exploit this natural advantage if they accept that by doing so they succumb to society's most stern disapprobation.

No matter, Ms Bellamy is out of the picture now, although the twins keep in touch by phone with their biological mother, Ms McCune. What is the flesh of your flesh or the blood of your blood, compared with the magical mystery of genetic inheritance? What is the dark, safe enclosure of the womb, but a miraculous kind of airing cupboard, when the eggs came out of another woman's tubes?

Yet while airing-cupboard hire came cheap at the price for the Drewitt-Barlows - men so into conspicuous consumption that they bought a diamond bracelet for their daughter and a Gucci gold watch for their son on their first birthday, and hired elephants, llamas and zebras for their party when they were three - for others it is not.

Mrs Toni Kelly, who was born without a womb, applied to her health authority for funds to have her eggs fertilised by her husband's sperm and placed in a surrogate mother's womb. The request was turned down, not, ostensibly at least, because of the £15,000 price tag, but for more complex reasons.

"What concerned us was that there is basically no data available on the psychological and ethical issues which surround surrogacy," according to Martin Cresswell, director of communications for South Essex Health Authority. "We asked the Department of Health for their advice but they have no policy and no guidelines on surrogacy, as it has never been paid for on the NHS."

It's easy to spot that this statement is rather disingenuous. As far as the National Health Service is concerned, the situation is, if a little irony can be employed, chicken-and-egg. The NHS has never become involved in surrogacy, so the NHS cannot become involved in surrogacy.

More disturbing, it is, by omission at least, a misrepresentation. The NHS may not have guidelines on surrogacy, but Britain does. In fact, we're one of the Western world's most pure-minded, idealistic and altruistic states when it comes to this very issue.

Surrogacy is allowed in Britain, and has been going on since Kim Cotton caused outrage by carrying a child for the sum of £6,500 in 1985. Ms Cotton went on to form a surrogate agency, Cots, or Childlessness Overcome Through Surrogacy, in 1988. At present it is estimated that a child is born to a surrogate mother every week in Britain, and one or two dedicated surrogates have delivered as many as seven babies that they have given up to others.

In Britain though, unlike the United States, women are not allowed to profit from surrogacy, under the provisions of the 1990 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act. They can, however, claim expenses up to £10,000 - just what, coincidentally, Ms Bellamy was paid per Drewitt-Barlow child.

British law also protects surrogates against being forced to give up the baby they have carried if they change their mind, which may be a factor in driving so many people abroad in order to secure the services of surrogates. Nor is it legal for surrogates to be advertised for, so there may simply be fewer around, if you don't know someone willing to undertake the task for you.

Another factor, judging by the profile of many of those who seek the service abroad, is that women seem to feel happier performing this service for other less fortunate women than they do for men. Though the shock-horror factor in the unorthodox methods by which the Drewitt-Barlows started their family focused on the fact that they were gay, heterosexual men who have children without the benefit of a partner are also frowned upon.

Yet as long as this country continues to demand such massive altruism from surrogates, they will remain a scarce commodity. Those, therefore, who can pay most and travel farthest will dictate the shape of surrogacy's future, as a private financial transaction. And Mr Cresswell's sad words, that "there is basically no data available on the psychological and ethical issues which surround surrogacy", will carry on holding true. Surrogates, and the children they bear, deserve more respect than this. They are here to stay, and it's wrong to let the international marketplace be all that regulates them.