Britons are the most likely European citizens to use a foreign surrogate to have a baby, fuelling a global trade where individuals pay up to £85,000 per child, research shows.
Increasing numbers of infertile straight couples and gay men and women are resorting to paying a surrogate in countries across the world to help them have a baby – a practice that is banned in the UK.
Figures show that 271 British couples or individuals have had a baby using a paid surrogate over the last year. The findings will be presented at a conference next week organised by the Families Through Surrogacy (FTS) group, which compiled the data.
UK citizens are also statistically the most likely Europeans to engage in commercial surrogacy, according to the figures.
In the UK altruistic surrogacy is legal, but paying for the service is not. People will often choose commercial surrogacy because it is quicker and a more secure route to getting a baby than using an “altruistic” surrogate.
Paul Gittins, spokesman for the FTS’s upcoming conference, told The Independent that commercial surrogacy is on the rise owing to its increasing accessibility and the general growth in medical tourism.
“Surrogacy has been growing year-on-on in Britain and internationally, but there are no specific numbers for surrogacy in the UK,” he said.
“From a UK perspective, altruistic surrogacy, which is the only option available here, can be long and drawn out and there are no legal protections in place.
“With commercial surrogacy there is an arrangement and you know where you are,” he added.
Despite the apparent straightforwardness of commercial surrogacy, the UK Foreign Office cautions against thinking it can be an easy route to parenthood.
A report into surrogacy overseas warns: “International surrogacy is a complex area. The process for getting your child back to the UK can be very long and complicated, and can take several months to complete.”
Louisa Ghevaert, a leading UK surrogacy lawyer and family law expert agrees. “The decision to embark on a surrogacy journey is one of the most important decisions anyone can make.
“It’s vital for intended parents to tackle the legal issues from the outset to avoid the legal pitfalls and protect their much wanted family,” she added.
Professor Allan Pacey, a fertility expert at Sheffield University, believes the international surrogacy trade is part of a wider phenomenon of “medical globalisation”.
“With increasing opportunities for travel and the lower cost, combined with easily accessible information over the internet about what is available, some couples are looking outside their national borders for solutions to their infertility,” he told the Observer.
“Surrogacy is legal in the UK, but we suffer from a chronic shortage of women willing to do it. So I think it’s inevitable that women who need it will look elsewhere,” he added.