The Ethics Of Surrogacy Abroad

Many couples follow a traditional, well-established path of realizing that their lifelong relationship should grow into the start of a new family. While the conventional method for achieving this is simply allowing the woman in the relationship to become pregnant and give birth to a baby, not every couple can feasibly do this. Some women, for example, have high-risk medical conditions that would endanger themselves and their growing fetuses, while other women have had their uterus surgically removed to prevent the spread of cancer.

Adoption is one alternative for these couples, but surrogacy is another popular alternative for those willing to invest in it, where another woman agrees to become pregnant on behalf of a hopeful family. When the baby is finally born, the infant is united with the hopeful parents so that they can return home and begin a new life as a family.

Going Abroad As An Option

Increasingly, many couples who choose to have a child through surrogacy travel to other countries to have the experience abroad. There are several reasons for this. Currency differences can be a big one, for example, as Americans, with their stronger dollar, can take advantage of world-class facilities and more choice of surrogates in other countries than they would if they remained in the United States, especially in more expensive areas like 


Others travel because they want more choices, such as those who live in countries where only “altruistic surrogacies” are permitted. This surrogacy allows a woman to only volunteer for the surrogate mother role. While she may receive some basic financial support for living and medical expenses, she gets no other compensation. As a result, in these countries, women willing to take on this role are in short supply. Compensated surrogacies, where women receive significant financial recognition for their role, often provide much more choice and availability, especially for people who don’t want to wait years.

However, this brings up certain questions of morality and ethics once couples take this route. Among the issues that need to be considered are factors like:


This can often be a complex issue, and no universal answer exists. Autonomy relates to just how much choice or personal authority a person has. When a woman has her own child, traditional rules of autonomy apply in that it is her body and, therefore, her decision about the choices she makes regarding that body.

However, there is now an added layer of extra consideration regarding surrogacy. In most cases abroad, surrogacy will result from a financial transaction and a legally binding contract. So while a woman may maintain some immediate autonomy over herself and her body, this is now also constrained by contractual obligations and new legal agreements.

An example of how this can become complicated is a famous American case in the early years of surrogacy. “Baby M” was born in the 1980s when surrogacy laws were not yet firmly established, and when the baby was born, the surrogate mother changed her mind and wanted to retain custody of the baby. This resulted in a protracted legal battle that would set legal precedents in the United States regarding the rights of surrogate mothers and hopeful parents in the future.


On the other end of the equation, there are instances where people from Western cultures use their finances and dominant position to abuse the women undertaking surrogacy for them. One of the most famous cases in recent years is that of “Baby Gammy” in Thailand. In 2014, an Australian couple engaged a Thai woman to be the surrogate mother for their child. Unfortunately, two unexpected things happened. The fertilized egg split into twins, and one was detected with Down’s Syndrome.

The Australian couple initially told the Thai surrogate mother she should abort the fetus with Down’s Syndrome, which she refused to do on religious grounds. As a result, the couple then left the baby with the Thai surrogate mother, taking the healthy baby back to Australia. The Thai government and the general population were so appalled at the casual attitude of the Australian couple toward women and babies that they subsequently banned all foreigners from engaging the services of Thai women for surrogacy, and now the country only services local needs.


Some countries have comprehensive laws protecting surrogate mothers’ rights and the hopeful parents they partner with. Others do not. Unfortunately, This can mean that in some countries with little or no regulation, liberties or even abuses may be taken on both sides. Some agencies or clinics within unregulated countries may try to take advantage of the hopes of a couple. Others may treat the surrogate mothers are livestock or even merchandise, more concerned with getting money from a couple and delivering a baby for the money rather than looking after the welfare of mother and child.

This is why it’s critical for hopeful families thinking of undertaking the surrogacy journey to research their options carefully. This is a morally complex endeavor, and making the right decision with a clear conscience is important.