NATIONAL POST: This Ontario surrogate wanted to help another woman have a child, but the decision nearly killed her
By Tom Blackwell
October 15, 2015
Nancy says she signed the contract that made her a surrogate mother mostly to help someone else experience the joy of having children. It was a decision that nearly killed her.
Carrying triplets for complete strangers, the Ontario woman developed first high blood pressure, then congestive heart failure, before she was put into a medically induced coma last fall to save her life — and that of the infants.
Nancy, 47, survived and revealed her story this week, as tragic news emerged of an American surrogate who fared less well, dying during delivery of twins and leaving her own children behind.
Those and other cases underline the little–discussed risks of bearing someone else’s kids, and raise more questions about a practice that appears to be increasingly popular — and largely unregulated — in Canada.
Some experts argue it is more reason to allow surrogates to receive commercial payments, others that new rules are needed to better protect them. Some advocates argue surrogacy should be banned altogether because of the dangers, and other reasons.
“At what point are we just using these women?” asks Jennifer Lahl of California’s Center for Bioethics & Culture, who opposes surrogacy generally. “Women didn’t get this far to be treated like breeding animals.”
Canada allows contract surrogacy, but not commercial payment of the women.
Nancy says she still supports the practice, but bemoaned the lack of information surrogates receive about the hazards, and the way they sometimes are treated.
“Did I feel like an employee? Damn straight I did,” said the mother of five, who asked that her full name be withheld because of ongoing legal action. “Like a piece of trash. They used me and just threw me away like I was nothing.”
Karen Busby, a law professor and human-rights expert at the University of Manitoba who studies surrogacy, argues the “vast majority” of the arrangements actually work out well, while serious, life-threatening complications for any pregnant mother in Canada remain very rare.
The demand comes largely from other developed countries with more restrictive laws. Some, like France and Germany, ban surrogacy outright, while others, such as Israel, do not allow it for same-sex couples or single people.
Canadian law permits the practice, but prohibits commercial fees, a system on the verge of being tightened by contentious new rules.
In the meantime, business is booming.
But she says rules are needed to make it safer for what the industry calls “gestational carriers.”
Busby advocates regulations that limit the age of surrogates and the number of times they can carry someone else’s babies; ensure they had healthy pregnancies before and have completed their own families; and restrict the number of embryos used in trying to get them pregnant.
Meanwhile, consultants say demand is swelling for Canadian surrogates, a trend that seems to be confirmed by statistics from the Canadian Fertility and Andrology Society.
Clinics here carried out more than 400 in-vitro fertilization cycles on surrogates in 2013, the association says, double the number just five years earlier.
The risk of maternal death in childbirth in Canada is still low — six to 11 per 100,000 deliveries in recent years. But surrogates, and others, undergoing fertility treatment face elevated dangers.
The rates of pregnancy-induced high blood pressure, pre-eclampsia (hypertension with protein in the urine), gestational diabetes and hysterectomies are all several times higher for women carrying twins or more. And multiple pregnancies are made much more likely by IVF.
Evidence even suggests that pregnancy involving donated eggs — almost always the case with contract surrogacy – is more likely to trigger hypertension or post-partum hemorrhage.
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