Surrogacy payment review urged

DEIDRE MUSSEN
Last updated 05:00 18/08/2014
Gaylene Kurth
ROSS GIBLIN/FAIRFAX NZ
NOT FOR MONEY: Upper Hutt mother Gaylene Kurth was happy to be a surrogate for her friend, despite being left out of pocket.

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Rules around how much surrogate parents and egg donors are paid in compensation needs an urgent review, with many New Zealanders choosing to head overseas for costly fertility treatment instead.

The Advisory Committee on Assisted Reproductive Technology (Acart) has assembled a group to advise the next health minister to review payments that can be legally offered to surrogate and egg donors in New Zealand.

"We are looking at what are the policy drivers that are sending New Zealanders overseas for fertility treatment," acting chairwoman Alison Douglass said.

The move comes amid international outrage over the case of Gammy, the baby boy with Down syndrome born to a Thai surrogate, who was allegedly abandoned by his Australian parents who in turn denied abandoning the child, blaming the surrogacy agency. The case has sparked a government crackdown on the international surrogacy industry in Thailand.

In New Zealand, Acart finished public consultation about importing and exporting embryos and gametes in March, which included seeking views about paying donors more.

Many submissions raised concerns about poor compensation for Kiwi surrogates and egg donors and said it was the main reason few women were offering to do either. That meant desperate parents-to-be were forced to seek fertility services overseas.

Here, commercial surrogacy is banned. Surrogacy, egg and sperm donors should be offered for purely altruistic reasons, but compensation can be given for "reasonable expenses".

Douglass said the regulations did not determine the level of compensation and payments varied between different fertility clinics. However, the amount was often small, leaving surrogates and donors out of pocket.

"What we are saying is altruism can cover reasonable compensation. It's a matter of being realistic as to what that means."

Overseas, boosting compensation has resulted in more donors. In April 2012, the United Kingdom trebled compensation rates for egg and sperm donors. Media reports suggested that had increased the number of donors, Douglass said.

One woman - who asked Acart to withhold her name - said her New Zealand experience of surrogacy "ended in disaster" when her surrogate withdrew at the last moment because she believed she was giving too much and not receiving anything in return.

That was after the couple had spent $4000 on lawyers, counselling and ethics committee approval.

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"In my opinion, if she had been getting some compensation, then she would have felt more motivation to do the surrogacy and perhaps not felt ‘taken advantage of'."

The couple eventually went overseas for surrogacy, where they were allowed to offer more compensation to the surrogate, she said.

Another woman told Acart that surrogates should be openly compensated in New Zealand, which was already happening in "underground arrangements".

"Our experience overseas is that compensating the surrogate for expenses and paying fees does not diminish the relationship in any way, provided the surrogate has been properly screened."

GIFT OF LIFE

When an Upper Hutt mother of four had a baby for her friend, she needed an emergency caesarean and was off work for six weeks.

Although significantly out of pocket as a result, Gaylene Kurth opposes the push to increase compensation rates for surrogates and for egg or sperm donors.

"I don't think there should be any money in it. I did it to give someone the gift of life . . . if you put money into it, you would get people doing it for the wrong reasons."

In 2012, she was a "traditional" surrogate for a friend, meaning the baby came from her egg. The intended parents paid for expenses, including medical costs, lawyers' fees, maternity clothes and even food and groceries during her recovery from the caesarean. However, no surrogacy fee changed hands between her and the couple.

Under New Zealand law, commercial surrogacy is banned and must be altruistic, although surrogates are allowed to receive compensation for reasonable expenses. The amounts are not defined in law, and are up to individual fertility clinics to determine.

- The Dominion Post

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