Elizabeth Banks welcomes second surrogate son

November 16th, 2012

Hollywood actress, Elizabeth Banks, 38, has hit the headlines again this week following the announcement of the birth of her second surrogate born son.

Baby Magnus joined older surrogate born brother Felix, aged 20 months, at her home earlier this week.  Elizabeth said “As 2012 winds down and Thanksgiving approaches, I have much for which to be thankful – personal, professional and Presidential.  However, nothing can match the joy and excitement my husband and I felt when we recently welcomed our second baby boy, Magnus Mitchell Handelman.  Like Felix, Magnus was born via a gestational surrogate. This experience has exceeded all expectations, taught us a great deal about generosity and gratitude, and established a relationship that will last a lifetime.”

Elizabeth captured the hearts of many following her honest account of her own battle with infertility and her and her husband’s decision to turn to surrogacy for the birth of their first son, Felix.  Elizabeth quickly became a role model for those looking to build families of their own through surrogacy with her sensitive approach to infertility and her decision to speak so openly and honestly about her own journey to parenthood through surrogacy. To read my previous article about Elizabeth Banks in magazine Fertility Road entitled Surrogacy and the Celebrity factor click here.

Earlier this week, Elizabeth went on to say “I am also so very thankful to our family and friends for their support throughout this process, as well as the Center for Surrogate Parenting for helping make all this possible.  I now turn my attention to managing two boys under two. For which I am thankful.  And all their poop. For which I am less thankful. Wish me luck”.

Celebrity endorsement of surrogacy by people like Elizabeth continues to help raise the profile of surrogacy.  Elizabeth has publicly given an honest and positive experience of the process and the joy it has brought to her and those around her.  Her story helps to give hope to others battling infertility and shows that surrogacy can deliver the life-changing gift of a child.

If you would like to discuss your situation in more detail or you would like more information about the legalities of  UK surrogacy law please contact me by email louisa.ghevaert@michelmores.com.

Three reasons why surrogacy can go wrong

October 12th, 2012

Surrogacy offers hope of a much wanted family to many.  It can bring immense happiness and joy.  However, it can be a risky business and not all experiences are positive.

Your surrogate fails to give valid consent

A landmark legal case in the English High Court decided earlier this month, D and L (Minors) (Surrogacy) 2012, illustrates the problems that can happen when a surrogate mother fails to co-operate and relinquish her legal status for the child.  In D and L, a  UK gay couple applied for parental orders for their twin boys, conceived with the help of an Indian surrogate mother through a clinic in Hyderabad, India.  They never met their Indian surrogate mother, dealing instead with the Indian clinic directly.  The couple were unable to obtain signed forms from their Indian surrogate mother consenting  to the grant of parental orders to enable them to become the twins’ legal parents under UK law. Their Indian clinic refused to help secure their surrogate’s written consent and the couple were unable to trace her themselves after the twins’ birth.  All they received was a package in the post, containing a single sheet of paper with an obscene gesture on it.

The couple did everything they could to comply with UK legal requirements and they were badly let down by their clinic. Following complex court proceedings, the judge eventually granted them parental orders and dispensed with the requirement for the legal consent of their surrogate who could not be found.  The judge did, however, issue a warning that future intended parents should learn the lesson that clear lines of communication with their surrogate are established to ensure they can obtain the necessary consent after the six week cooling off period post birth.

Your surrogate has a change of heart

Although rare, a surrogate mother sometimes has a change of heart and decides she wishes to keep the baby.  This can happen for a variety of reasons and if a dispute arises, it creates difficult and challenging legal proceedings and the court will make a decision in the best interests of the child.  As surrogacy agreements are not legally binding in the UK, this creates tension between the rights of surrogate mothers and intended parents.

The pregnancy is unsuccessful

Sadly, not all surrogate pregnancies result in a live birth.  This can be devastating for all involved and it raises difficult issues.  This can hit home even harder in circumstances where intended parents have already had a long and difficult fertility journey.

With so many risks, there is no substitute for obtaining expert legal advice, working with reputable clinics and agencies and maintaining direct links with the surrogate throughout the process.  If you would like to discuss your situation in more detail or you would like more information about surrogacy law, a parental order or what to do in the event of a surrogacy dispute please email me louisa.ghevaert@michelmores.com.

Mother in surrogacy case fights legal battle for maternity rights

September 26th, 2012

An intended mother from Kent is taking legal action against the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions for the same maternity rights as adoptive parents.

The woman has taken her case to the High Court arguing that she has been discriminated against under The Human Rights Act.  She is arguing that the Government has failed to ensure respect for intended parents’ private and family life in surrogacy cases and that the Government has a positive obligation to avoid discrimination.

The woman and her husband conceived with the help of a surrogate and IVF last year.  When she approached her employer for information about maternity rights and entitlement, her employer advised her that they were under no legal obligation to allow her time off work to care for her child, although they finally offered her a year’s unpaid leave as a gesture of goodwill.

The woman then contacted her local MP, who forwarded her request for help with obtaining paid maternity leave to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.  The Department of Work & Pensions is understood to have refused to help saying that maternity benefits were related to “time off in the later stages of pregnancy and [to] prepare for, and recover from, childbirth in the interests of health and that of their baby”.  The woman queried their response highlighting that leave is given for adoptive parents.

Sadly, having accepted the offer of unpaid leave, the woman was made redundant shortly after the birth of her baby son.  As she did not qualify for maternity leave, her unpaid leave was not legally protected.

Parents of surrogate born children should have the same legal rights and protection as other parents.  The current lack of legal protection can cause immense hardship for intended parents, who can face financial difficulties and worries about job security or even job loss.  This sends out a worrying message that parents and children born through surrogacy are second class citizens and this needs to change.  Current surrogacy laws in the UK are outdated and there needs to be a root and branch overhaul to make them fit for the twenty first century.

If you would like more information about surrogacy law or you would like to discuss your situation in more detail please contact me by email louisa.ghevaert@michelmores.com.

Fertility and Parenting law team shortlisted for The Law Society’s 2012 Excellence Award in Innovation

September 11th, 2012

I am delighted that my team and I at Porter Dodson Fertility have been shortlisted for the Law Society’s 2012 Excellence Award in Innovation. 

This recognizes our cutting-edge, pioneering and innovative legal work helping people all over the world build families through fertility treatment, international and UK surrogacy, donor conception including known donation and co-parenting, as well as our work concerning family, children and parenting disputes.

The Law Society’s prestigious awards ceremony recognizes excellence across the legal profession and outstanding contributions from solicitors and their teams.  Winners will be announced at a black tie event on 18 October at Old Billingsgate, London.



For more information about this and our work click here or contact me by email louisa.ghevaert@porterdodson.co.uk or call +44 (0)207 222 1244 or visit www.porterdodsonfertility.com.

The legacy of Jill Hawkins, the UK’s most prolific surrogate mother

September 7th, 2012

Jill Hawkins announced this week that she plans to retire from her role as a surrogate mother in the UK.   Jill, a 48 year old legal secretary from Sussex, has given birth to ten surrogate babies and given unimaginable joy to the childless couples she has helped over the last twenty years.

Jill’s legacy puts surrogacy in the spotlight again, at a time when there has never been greater debate about the the practice of surrogacy around the world.  There continues to be strong demand for surrogacy and Jill’s commitment and dedication, as the UK’s most prolific surrogate mother, gives real and meaningful insight into the practice.  Her views stand as clear affirmation of the positive benefits surrogacy can bring to both surrogate mothers and childless couples alike and her views paint an altogether different picture from much of the recent negative coverage, particularly of Indian surrogacy which has once again raised concerns about exploitation, ‘baby buying’ and organized  ’baby farms’.

In an interview with The Telegraph this week, Jill said “I love doing this.  I meet amazing couples who are heartbroken and I want to make them happy.  It will be hard to walk away”.  Interestingly, she says of foreign commercial surrogacy “I can understand why most women in this county might find the idea of an organized baby farm abhorrent.  But I don’t have a problem with it.  These women are host surrogates, they aren’t using their own eggs.  I know from personal experience that it’s perfectly possible to detach yourself and not feel as though it’s your baby”.

She said of her own motivations, “It’s hard for someone who really longs for a baby to understand that I don’t, but this whole journey began because I personally wanted to experience pregnancy, not be a mother”.  She also tellingly and poignantly said “People talk about the gift of life, but surrogacy has saved mine so many times. It has given me purpose, a vocation that brings happiness.  I become part of a couple’s life and, if I’m honest, it’s been a way of distancing myself from my own life, my own problems. The newspapers called me a baby factory and said I got depressed because I gave up my babies.  But they weren’t mine - having them was the best thing I’ve ever done”.

As a lawyer who practices in the field of fertility, parenting and surrogacy law, I often get asked about the reasons why a woman would want to offer herself as a surrogate mother and carry a pregnancy for someone else.  Many intended parents worry that a surrogate mother will change her mind and want to keep the baby and the fact that surrogacy agreements are not enforceable in law in the UK as a matter of public policy.  Those battling infertility are often understandably concerned that their longed for and much-wanted baby might not end up in their care and that they might somehow be held to ransom by a surrogate mother, with little or no legal rights of their own.  Jill’s legacy and views stand as testament that many surrogate mothers want to help someone else achieve their dream of parenthood, and that they are motivated by a personal enjoyment of pregnancy and a strong sense of altruism.

I met Jill in person, when we were both interviewed on BBC Breakfast TV in January 2011.  Jill was forthright, upfront and eloquent about her experience and role as a surrogate mother in the UK.  She was proud of her contribution and legacy and her passion and dedication as a surrogate mother was palpable.  Jill’s experience shows that surrogacy is not a one-way street that favours intended parents and exploits surrogate mothers. Jill’s experience shows that surrogacy is a complex, rewarding and deeply personal experience that creates a life-changing legacy in the form of a baby.  It brings joy, a much wanted-baby and a sense or purpose.  It also gives childless couples the opportunity to have a genetic child of their own.

That said, surrogacy can raise complex legal issues and problems, particularly in cases of foreign surrogacy and on occasions when domestic surrogacy agreements  breakdown.  English law dictates that the surrogate mother is always the child’s legal mother at birth and her consent and co-operation is required for intended parents to obtain full legal parental status for the child by way of a parental order.  A surrogate mother is therefore at the heart of the process in every sense.

If you would like to discuss your situation in more detail or you would like more information about the legal issues surrounding surrogacy please contact me by email louisa.ghevaert@michelmores.com.

Ukrainian surrogacy law dispute: TV coverage places Ukrainian surrogacy under the spotlight

August 10th, 2012

Ukrainian surrogacy has recently been placed in the spotlight following rare in-depth TV coverage of what’s reported to be Ukraine’s first ever surrogacy dispute.  The TV programme ‘Podrobnosti’, filmed by Ukrainian TV Channel (Inter TV), covers the story of Ukrainian surrogate mother Irina Morozova who gave birth to twin boys  following a surrogacy arrangement with Italian intended parents and who is now embroiled in a legal dispute to retain care of them.

I was delighted to be interviewed for the TV programme as an expert in UK surrogacy law, alongside leading Ukrainian professionals and experts including an official from the Ukrainian Ministry of Health and Vitoriya Rogatinskaya the director of the international surrogacy organization ‘The Supportive Motherhood’ and Jill Hawkins (the UK’s most well known surrogate mother).

The TV programme provides a rare glimpse of the surrogacy sector in the Ukraine and a direct interview with the Ukrainian surrogate mother Irina Morozova.  Irina has been battling legally to retain care of the twins she gave birth to for the last year and a half .  She seriously doubts the intentions of the Italian intended parents who commissioned the twins’ birth.  Shockingly, she is worried that if she were to hand over the twins they would be sold for organ donation.

The programme reports that there is a growing surrogacy market in the Ukraine and that around 150 surrogate babies are born in the Ukraine to foreign intended parents each year. There is no international harmonization of surrogacy law and this can create all sorts of complex legal issues for intended parents, who can experience immigration problems bringing their child home after the birth and an often challenging legal process to obtain full parental status for their child.  Irina’s story graphically demonstrates that surrogacy is not risk free and that surrogacy law disputes can arise, bringing further challenges for all those involved in the process.

If you would like more information about the legal issues associated with international surrogacy, including surrogacy in the Ukraine please email me louisa.ghevaert@michelmores.com.

Indian surrogacy: draft law finalised to bring in regulation

July 17th, 2012

For the first time, The Indian Government has finalised draft legislation to regulate the rapidly expanding Indian surrogacy sector.  At present, there are no surrogacy laws in India and surrogacy is neither legal nor illegal.  It is understood that the Indian Government is moving quickly to introduce legal regulation and The Assisted Reproductive Technology Regulation (ART) Bill is due to come before the Winter Session of the Indian Government.

There are currently believed to be around one thousand fertility clinics in India, although the actual number is unclear as there is no official supervisory body.  It is estimated that there were approximately two thousand surrogate births in India last year, with around half of these believed to have been born to British intended parents.  Indian authorities now believe the Indian surrogacy sector is worth as much as £1.5 billion each year and that it continues to grow rapidly and needs regulation.

The Bill seeks to ban foreign intended parents from entering into a surrogacy arrangement in India if surrogacy in prohibited in their homeland (which will catch many European nationals).  It also requires foreign intended parents to provide an undertaking that their surrogate born child will be entitled to foreign citizenship from their home country.  This is designed to stop the birth of surrogate born children in India who are stateless (since they are not currently recognized as Indian citizens) and who cannot then navigate a safe legal path home with their intended parents.

The Bill also requires foreign intended parents to retain a local guardian to support the surrogate in their absence.  If the intended parents do not assume care of the child after the birth, the child will then be granted Indian citizenship and the guardian will then be able to arrange his/her adoption in India.  This is designed to stop cases where surrogate born children have been born legally parentless in India due to an international conflict of law and intended parents have either struggled to get home safely with their child or they abandoned the child altogether.

The Bill also restricts surrogate mothers to those aged 21 to 35 years, with a cap of five successful live births in her lifetime including the births of her own children. Overall, the Bill’s aim is to support the rights of surrogate born children, surrogate mothers and intended parents and bring about legal regulation with criminal sanctions for those who breach the law. This demonstrates once again that surrogacy law and practice remains a fast moving area and this is something to watch in the months ahead as we wait to see what the end result will be.

If you would like more information about the legal issues associated with an international surrogacy arrangement or you would like to discuss your situation in more detail please email me louisa.ghevaert@michelmores.com.

Surrogacy ban to hit Queensland: a worrying step backwards

July 6th, 2012

The Queensland government has announced that it plans to change surrogacy law to prevent single people, gay couples and straight couples who have lived together for less than two years from undergoing surrogacy. Existing altruistic surrogacy legislation was only passed in February 2010, de-criminalising altruistic surrogacy although commercial surrogacy remains a crime.

The Queensland Premier Campbell Newman said shortly before his election in March that his party would not make any changes to surrogacy law.  He has subsequently said this was a mistake and that they intend to change the law and restrict surrogacy to longstanding heterosexual couples only.  These proposed changes will effectively criminalise altruistic surrogacy arrangements for single people, gay couples and heterosexual couples who have lived together for less than two years and they will face a prison sentence of up to three years if they have a child through surrogacy.

These proposed changes represent a significant government u-turn and a worrying step backwards in terms of the rights of single people and gay and straight couples to access surrogacy.  These proposed changes will create additional worry and heartache for many prospective parents, who will either seek to keep ‘below the radar’ with their family building plans or move to a state with less restrictive and discriminatory laws. Interest in surrogacy continues to grow around the world.  Growing numbers of intended parents are already crossing borders to access surrogacy in the face of restrictive laws at home and these numbers look set to increase in light of these proposed changes to the law in Queensland.

Surrogacy arrangements, particularly those with an international element, can raise complex legal issues and international conflicts of law. If you would like to discuss your situation in more detail or you would like more information about the legal issues associated with international surrogacy please email me louisa.ghevaert@michelmores.com.

Louise Brown, the world’s first IVF baby, talks about surrogacy and assisted conception

June 29th, 2012

Louise Brown (aged 33) was the first baby to be born through IVF.  Louise’s mother, Lesley, pioneered the practice of IVF in the UK (and around the world) and she sadly  died recently after developing septicaemia whilst being treated in hospital for gallstones. Louise and her mother were very close and Louise paid tribute to her mother in a recent media interview saying “She gave me life – and every woman the chance to be a mother” and “I don’t think I could have tried for a baby for as long as she did.  I’d have given up, but she never did”.

Louise, herself now a mother, endorses IVF treatment although she admits to worrying about the consequences of scientific developments  in assisted conception.  She recently said during a media interview “IVF has helped millions of couples have babies.  Of course I’d have had it myself if I’d needed to”. She went on to say “I’m happy for same-sex couples to use IVF to have a baby, but I don’t believe couples should be able to choose the sex or anything else for their child unless it’s for medical reasons”.

In terms of surrogacy, Louise said “I don’t have strong feelings about surrogacy – if it’s used properly it can help women who can’t carry a child.  Her biggest concern, however,  centres on the rising numbers of older women seeking assisted conception to become mothers.  More and more women are turning to IVF and surrogacy to have a much wanted child when their attempts to conceive naturally prove unsuccessful, often later in life after they have established their financial positions, personal lives and careers.  IVF can be very gruelling and surrogacy is not for the faint-hearted given the UK legal restrictions and the complex legal and logistical issues associated with international surrogacy arrangements. Louise acknowledges this growing trend but said “Children need their parents to be there, so I believe in having children young, to see as much of their lives as possible” and “I can understand why some older women might be desperate for a family if they haven’t had one, but I’d be worried about women in their fifties having a baby just because they can”.

The desire to have a baby can be incredibly powerful and deep seated and these feelings can drive people of all ages and walks of life to want to have a child.  In the knowledge that assisted conception, IVF and surrogacy is a global reality and that scientific developments are improving pregnancy success rates all the time, increasing numbers of people are choosing to become parents later in life and build non traditional family structures (including solo parents, co-parenting and known donor arrangements). This brings with it all manner of additional challenges, both legally and practically.

If you would like to discuss your situation in more detail or you would like more information about the legal issues surrounding surrogacy, IVF, donor conception, known donation, co-parenting arrangements or becoming a solo parent please email me louisa.ghevaert@michelmores.com.

International surrogacy: US judge denies restitution following surrogacy scam

June 22nd, 2012

On Monday (18 June 2012), a US federal judge in San Diego denied a claim brought by Sharp Healthcare for reimbursement of approximately $600,000 in medical costs for the medical care of seven surrogate babies delivered as a result of an international baby-selling ring.

This case follows on from the conviction of a former prominent Poway surrogacy lawyer, Theresa Erickson, earlier this year for fraud and her sentence to a 14 month term (with five months to be spent in prison) for her part in the surrogacy scam.  Two others, Carla Chambers of Las Vegas and Hilary Neiman of Maryland received similar sentences for their parts in the scam as well.

The seven surrogate born babies were delivered at Sharp hospitals.  Several of the babies were premature and medical costs for their care exceeded $600,000.  The intended parents respectively paid between $100,000 and $150,000 for their surrogacy arrangements and believed everything was legal and that there was medical insurance in place to cover medical costs.  The intended parents were then shocked and horrified when they were presented with huge medical bills and discovered these were not covered by health insurance and the illegality of their surrogacy arrangements came to light.

Sharp Healthcare entered into agreements with the majority of the intended parents and accepted more than $235,000 in payments.  However, this left a shortfall of approximately $600,000 which it sought to recover from Theresa Erickson.  Their claims were denied in five of the seven cases by US District Judge Anthony Battaglia. The judge ordered only a few thousand dollars of reimbursement to the remaining two sets of intended parents who had been listed in the government’s criminal case as victims (the other five sets of intended parents had not been listed as victims in the government’s case).

The outcome of this case graphically illustrates once again what can happen when surrogacy arrangements go wrong.  The legal issues surrounding surrogacy are complex and even more so in cases involving international surrogacy arrangements. It is therefore critical that anyone contemplating a surrogacy arrangement fully gets to grips with the legal issues and implications from the outset and ensures they have confidence in the people with whom they work.

If you would like to discuss your situation in more detail or you would like more information about surrogacy law and the specific legal issues associated with international surrogacy please email me louisa.ghevaert@michelmores.com.