Surrogacy is a process whereby a woman delivers the child for another couple. Couples who have sought surrogacy are sometimes called the “social parents”, “intended parents” or the “commissioning parents”. In some cases donor sperm and eggs are used whilst in other cases the commissioning parents would use their own. Depending on the context, couples may use maternity tests and paternity tests to help establish their biological relationship to the child born from the surrogate mother.
Different types of Surrogacy
The traditional surrogacy method is when a woman carries the baby for another couple but the surrogate mother also donates her egg. This type of surrogacy, whilst easier to carry out as it can be done through artificial insemination, may be a bit more problematic given the fact that the woman carrying the baby is the biological mother of the child.
Another alternative is gestational surrogacy. In this case, couples need to resort to IVF treatment. The sperm and ovum are fertilized in a laboratory and then following fertilization, the embryo implanted into the surrogate mother’s uterus.
Because couples opting for surrogacy are involving the surrogate mother (who may or may not be the genetic mother of the child but is nevertheless, the person carrying the baby), DNA testing may be required in order to meet the adoption criteria or support the birth certificate process by the child’s biological parents.
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Maternity testing cases
Typically these are carried out in cases of gestational surrogacy where the mother who has carried the pregnancy to term is biologically unrelated to the child. The donor of the ova may in this case need to prove that she, rather than the mother who has given birth to the child, is the actual biological mother. A DNA test would in this case, help to exclude the surrogate mother as the biological mother.
Cases of paternity testing
Sometimes couples may undertake a paternity test to simply find reassurance that the correct embryos were implanted or that the correct sperm had been used in the fertilization process. Whilst rare, there have been mix-ups in the past and couples have had to deal with the trauma of discovering that their baby is biologically unrelated to them. Surrogacy, or any type of assisted reproductive interventions, can take up to two years; they involve expenses, hormone therapy, stress and anxiety – it is no surprise that some couples may seek peace of mind by doing a DNA test.
DNA testing: The legal aspect
Establishing biological parentage by means of a DNA test could be really important in cases where the couple wish their child to be able to legally enter a country of which one of the biological parents is a native/ naturalized citizen. The immigration authorities will actually need the results of a DNA test as proof of relationship between the parent/s and the child. For example, a child born through surrogacy, whose parent is a UK citizen, will need to confirm their biological relationship to each other in order for the child to avail of the benefits and rights given to children of British citizens. This is all the more important if the couple underwent surrogacy treatment outside of the UK.
Sample collection and DNA testing process
Sample collection will be organized depending on where the people involved in the test are based. If they are based overseas, this will most likely be organized at the local embassy or consulate. Importantly, DNA testing must follow a strict sample collection procedure. Samples will need to be collected by a third party doctor or nurse, called the sampler (if carried out in an embassy, they may already have a designated sampler). All parties taking part need to be identified and all DNA samples collected and documented correctly. The people being sampled will not be able to handle or come into contact with the oral swabs which have been used for collecting their DNA. All samples will be sent back for testing by the sampler themselves. Results of such test will be notarized and sent in hard copy.