Surrogacy Abroad – What Irish Citizens Need to Know

Written by: Sam Everingham

Since Growing Families ran its first education event in Ireland in 2016 for infertile couples looking at donor or surrogacy pathways, the landscape has changed massively. Back then many were engaging in surrogacy in India.  That nation, along with Thailand, Cambodia and Nepal, have long since closed their doors to allowing foreign nationals to create family. 

Ukraine has a long history of providing egg donors to not only Irish couples, but those of many other nations. Despite the ongoing war, Ukraine remains a leading source of donor eggs globally. While Ukraine surrogacy programs have suffered a huge drop in popularity, too many Irish nationals continue to engage there simply because ‘someone I know went there’ or its ‘close to home’. One leading Ukraine agency I talked to this week reports that most of its cases since the Ukraine war began come from Ireland or Germany. 

The Rise of ‘Travelling’ Surrogates 

The Ukraine war put extreme pressure on European countries with far less capacity for or acceptance of surrogacy, such as Greece, Georgia and North Cyprus. In each of these nations, unlike countries like Ukraine, the US and Canada, surrogacy is something of a taboo subject. This motivated entrepreneurial agencies to instead import surrogates from other countries – what is known as ‘travelling’ surrogates. 

So an Irish citizen engaging in a North Cyprus surrogacy program is likely to be assigned a Ukranian surrogate, residing in North Cyprus for all or some of the pregnancy. 

Why Are ‘Travelling’ Surrogates a Problem?  

Such arrangements create a raft of ethical, logistical and legal issues. Surrogates’ freedom of movement is restricted; they may have an urgent need to return to their home country; they not speak the language of the country where they are confined and they may be removed from their social support network. There is also a risk of significant legal complications given the complexities of complying with different systems of law.   

To guard against such problems, intended parents should ensure that they:    

  • understand how their proposed agency recruits and cares for surrogates 
  • are confident any proposed surrogate has local support 
  • can maintain regular direct contact with their surrogate during pregnancy  
  • seek specialist advice before engaging in any international arrangement  
  • avoid politically unstable or conflict affected jurisdictions.  

Are Any International Programs Still Safe? 

The short answer is yes. Despite a threat by its government to close, Georgia has continued to offer surrogacy to foreigners. The US, Canada and some countries in central and south America also remain relatively safe options, given their surrogates are local and infrastructure has developed to provide appropriate screening, care and communication. The key problem is, in each country, their remain unethical operators, keen to exploit naïve intended parents.  

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What About Ireland?

Parental Recognition for Irish Nationals 

Currently only the Irish biological father is recognised as a legal parent following surrogacy, forcing the intended mother to wait years to adopt her own child – even if her eggs were used. It has been a sore point for many years amongst Irish women requiring surrogacy. 

Surrogacy in Ireland: How Does It Work?

Learn More

Is Ireland Going to Implement Laws to Support Surrogacy? 

The short answer is yes. Ireland’s long-awaited 200 page Assisted Human Reproduction Bill, currently plodding its way through the tiers of legislative approval, had loud voices lobbying for the ability of Irish mothers via surrogacy to be recognised as the legal parent of their children. The end product has an impressive 88 items related to surrogacy – over a third of the entire bill.  

What Will the New Laws Do? 

Legal parentage will be available not just for the biological father as is currently the case, but for the intended mother also for both domestic and international surrogacy arrangements which meet certain standards.  

While it remains unclear when the new laws will be enacted, when they are they will create a register of all infants born via surrogacy, to allow them to access their own birth stories at an appropriate age.  

It is important to note that for future Irish females requiring surrogacy, they will not be recognised as a legal parent unless they engaged in a pre-approved altruistic (unpaid) surrogacy arrangement at home or abroad. ‘Altruistic’ means the surrogate was paid expenses only. This will be the only form allowed in Ireland. The only other country that both allows foreigners and has credible altruistic laws is Canada.  

There remain many questions about the new laws that we hope will be addressed as time goes on. 

The Future 

The upcoming availability of legal parentage for those engaging in domestic surrogacy is an exciting development. Let’s hope that Ireland is able to develop a similarly robust altruistic surrogacy community to that which exists in the UK.  

The evidence from other nations shows that even if a robust domestic surrogacy community does develop, many will still choose to engage in the process offshore with the help of compensated surrogates. Ireland’s Oireachtas plans to penalise these families and their children by denying them access to legal parentage.  

Growing Families annual Dublin conference in September will bring together infertile couples and singles along with many others who are not able to carry for medical reasons. It will focus on medical and Donor IVF issues, along with information and insights as to the lived experience of surrogates, donors, children and parents in both the domestic and international setting. 

This article was written by:

Sam Everingham

Sam Everingham is the founder of Growing Families. He has extensive global networks with surrogacy researchers, families, agencies, and reproductive specialists, and has been helping couples and singles with their family building journey for over a decade. He is a regular media commentator and has co-authored articles on surrogacy in several reputable journals.

Read more about Sam Everingham

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