History of Surrogacy

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The process of surrogacy is not new and is there for centuries. During the historical time, there is evidence of the existence of the concept of one woman bearing a child for another. But then it was not termed as surrogacy nor had any set rules and regulations like now.

Glimpse of History

To have a better comprehension of the surrogacy and relevant assisted reproductive technology (ART), it is crucial to understanding the history when you’re considering surrogacy, the legalities involved and what you can expect. Surrogacy has been around since Biblical times.

  • Biblical Times: The story of Sarah, Abraham, and Hagar was mentioned in “The Book of Genesis” as the first indication of surrogacy. Sarah and Abraham could not conceive a child of their own from their wed-lock. This made Sarah turn to her most faithful maidservant Hagar. She insisted Hagar to be the mother of Abraham’s child. This case was termed as a traditional surrogacy. In such a process the surrogate mother uses her own egg in the child she’s carrying for intended parents. Both Sarah and Abraham had happily claimed the child as their own.
  • 1975: First successful IVF embryo transfer was conducted ethically.
  • 1976: Lawyer Noel Keane was instrumental in executing the first legal surrogacy agreement in the history of surrogacy. However, it was a traditional surrogacy, where the donor did not receive any compensation for the pregnancy. This was treated as a first breakthrough in the United States because this helped to establish the infertility center to arrange hundreds of surrogate pregnancies every year.
  • 1978: It took three years from embryo transfer to baby conceive through IVF and the first baby was born.
  • 1980: The term compensation related to surrogacy came to existence and the surrogacy agreement for first compensated surrogacy was arranged in this year. Elizabeth Kane (name altered) was the first person to received $10,000 to conceive a baby for another couple. Later she wrote a book called ‘Birth Mother’ where she shared her experiences and regretted her choice to become a surrogate. Kane mentioned that she was unprepared for the emotional stress of surrogacy and the challenges she faced after giving birth to the baby.
  • 1984: The building block for future artificial inseminations was established. However, not ethically approved but the first successful artificial insemination of a woman was completed this year.
  • 1984–1986: This tenure became popular in surrogacy history due to the famous case of “Baby M.” involving a traditional surrogacy.

In 1984, the childless couple William and Elizabeth Stern had hired Mary Beth Whitehead to be the surrogate mother. The couple agreed to compensate $ 10,000 to carry out artificial insemination process using Whitehead’s eggs. Whitehead became the biological mother of the child but as it came closer to the birth date, Whitehead decided to void the contract and took custody of baby Melissa Stern (“Baby M.”). This has seen a long custody battle in 1986 and the court finally concluded that there is a conflict between surrogacy contracts and state public policy. It finally permitted voluntary surrogacy and the contracts however allowed to be created, but cannot be legally supported. In the “Baby M.” case, the Sterns were allowed to keep custody of the child, but Whitehead was granted visiting privileges. This case made many surrogacy professionals to begin a gradual shift towards gestational surrogacy to avoid legal tangles.

  • 1985: Parallel to the highly focused “Baby M.” case, the gestational surrogacy also paved its way as the first successful gestational surrogacy was completed this year. The traditional surrogacy and surrogacy in general became highly restricted in the states in the next 30 years. The law and legislators significantly shifted towards the ways to safeguard the parental rights in surrogacy for the intended parents, usually through a pre-birth or post-birth parentage order. This has popularized many prominent surrogacy centers and experienced surrogacy professionals, to help both intended parents and prospective surrogates towards the process.
  • 2004–2008: In the United States, almost 5,000 children were born via surrogacy.

The recent years have seen making and breaking of many surrogacy records. In 2011, the oldest even surrogate mother in her age of 61 years successfully carried her own grandchild. The advent of science has always been a companion to the surrogacy process in the long journey since it started from before the late twentieth century. The use of advanced medicines and several types of surrogacy technique made it easier for the intended parents and the surrogate mothers to opt for this where intended parents can complete their family and the surrogates can help to change their lives forever. The history of surrogacy and the journey so far shows us the light that we can surely expect more positivity towards surrogacy in the future.

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