Sun | Aug 25, 2019

Wombs for rent - Scores of Jamaican women advertising to be surrogates in booming multimillion-dollar business

Published:Sunday | July 21, 2019 | 12:39 AMCarlene Davis - Gleaner Writer
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Surrogacy has become a big moneymaking business all across the world, raking in millions for some countries, and Jamaica is not to be left out. Hundreds of Jamaican women are now tapping into the ‘rent a womb industry’, advertising their availability on a number of surrogacy websites.

A surrogate is a woman who bears a child for someone else, usually because that person is unable to become pregnant. The procedure is either done through traditional or gestational surrogacy.

In traditional surrogacy, the eggs of the substitute woman are used, which makes her the biological mother of the child; while in gestational surrogacy, the eggs and sperm could be from the intended parents or from another source, but the surrogate has no biological link to the baby.

Increasingly, persons from all over the world who desire to be parents have been seeking women to be surrogates, which has led to a big boom in the industry, with many women even using it as their source of income.

In 2017, an international journal on sexual and reproductive health and rights, titled ‘Babies, Borders and Big Business’, stated that “the worth of the commercial surrogacy industry is estimated at around US$2.3 billion annually”.

And BBC News, in an article earlier this year, reported that, “as far back as 2012 the industry around surrogacy was worth an estimated US$6 billion (£4.7 billion) a year”.

More and more Jamaican women are now cashing in.

The Sunday Gleaner found scores of Jamaican women offering their services on at least two websites, which provide a platform for intended parents, surrogate mothers, egg donors, surrogacy lawyers and agencies to communicate.

USER PROFILES

One website had 63 Jamaican women, while the other had 50, ranging in ages from 18 to 50 years old, from all across the island.

Displaying their profile photos, the women were either already mothers or childless.

One 18-year-old, listed as Shana-Lee from Manchester, said she was childless and willing to become a surrogate to help gay and lesbian couples, heterosexual couples, as well as single women.

“I have seen it in movies and I’ve always had in the back of my mind helping mothers who are unable to, while earning some bucks. It has always sounded like something special,” said Shana-Lee, who added that she was healthy and ready to be a surrogate.

Ann-Marie, who said she was from St Ann and married, said God blessed her and she wanted to bless others with the gift of having a child.

“Hi friend, [I] am here to help you and your partner. I would like to get a chance to work with you. Pick me. I have been blessed with a beautiful daughter, married for three years, [I] am honest, hard-working, loving, very intelligent, and I just want to help you to become a parent. I would like to work with gay couples or lesbians. I would like to share the gift of God,” said Ann-Marie.

Imanie, who is from Kingston, pleaded with intended parents to choose her, noting that she was young and needed the money.

“Honestly, it has been something I have thought about for some time now. I will not lie and say that the financial benefit isn’t an instigator; however, the more I did my research, I found that comfort is not only an emotional thing but it is also a mentality. Being able to know that I can help someone who is unable, for whatever personal reasons, to have a child, and giving them that opportunity for comfort at a level that is priceless, I feel is amazing,” said Imanie.

Kimberly and Latoya said they had done surrogacy before and were back to bring joy to more parents.

Several intended parents commented under each woman’s profile, expressing interest, noting how desperate they were for a child and asked the ladies to make contact as soon as possible.

NEED FOR LEGISLATION

Attorney-at-law Sherry-Ann McGregor, who has written extensively on the topic of surrogacy in The Gleaner, and specifically on the need for legislation, said while she was not against the practice, it was troubling that there was no legal guidelines on the issue in Jamaica, in spite of evidence of locals being involved in its practice.

“I keep asking the question, is this not against public policy? Because the entire premise is that you are having a child that you are selling. Unless there’s legislation that says we are only going to allow altruistic surrogacy, effectively, people end up paying for children,” said McGregor.

She said there are so many unanswered questions around the issue, such as: what if a child is born deformed? And what if the intended parents decide that they don’t want the child after it is born?

In Jamaica, after giving birth, the intended parents have to adopt the child born using a surrogate, even if the surrogate has no biological ties to the baby.

“Generally speaking, we usually talk about declaration of paternity, not maternity, for the simple reason that our law didn’t anticipate a situation where there was surrogacy. The laws need to be changed so that they are applicable to society. The law can’t remain static; what if there is some malfunction at the facility that is storing the eggs and sperms? It is so risky,” said McGregor.

A contract is usually signed as part of a surrogacy arrangement, which, among other things, outline payments, rights and responsibilities of the parties involved, but McGregor argues that even with what could be considered an airtight contract, there is no legislation to determine whether the contract will be legal or enforceable in a court in Jamaica.

“You can’t enforce a contract generally that is contrary to public policy; you are looking at a situation where it can really explode. People who come to me and ask me to give them advice in this area, I say to them, any advice I give to you would be based on general principles, and I cannot give you an assurance that the contract you sign is going to be enforceable. How can I?” she reasoned.

“The contract is well and good as long as the parties adhere to it, but if there is a breach or someone doesn’t want to enforce the terms of it, that’s when we are going to have a situation in the court for which we have absolutely no legislations to provide guidance.”

Obstetrician and gynaecologist, and director of the Hugh Wynter Fertility Management Unit, Dr Vernon DaCosta, said in September of this year they will be hosting a workshop on surrogacy. They are hoping this will start a conversation with the Government to legislate the issue.

carlene.davis@gleanerjm.com