A Short History of Surrogacy

All About Surrogacy 

What are the important facts about the history of surrogacy and the modern surrogacy arrangement that every intended parent and surrogate mother should know? Fortunately, you don’t need to study legal textbooks, to learn the pertinent historical events that led to the modern era’s overall surrogacy law scenario.

In fact, the two most critical terms to understand are ones you likely already know: traditional and gestational surrogacy. In short, a gestational carrier is a proper designation for a woman who signs a surrogate agreement and gives birth to a child, either through artificial insemination or any other type of assisted reproductive technology.

Here are the most helpful facts to know about the history of surrogacy, the modern surrogate mother process, and surrogacy law in general.

A short history of artificial insemination and surrogacy
  • The first known, recorded case of surrogacy took place in Biblical times when Abraham supposedly impregnated one of his wife’s servants. Of course, there was no artificial insemination in those days, so basically one woman substituted for another and agreed to give up her biological child to someone else.
  • In 1884, science recorded the first known case of artificial insemination. It’s important to understand that the method is still considered “traditional” as opposed to “gestational” because the woman who gives birth is the biological mother of the child.

    For several years, this variation of the traditional surrogate process involved nothing more than an artificial insemination cost, the transfer of sperm into the carrier, and the gestation process. At that point, the birth mother gave up her legal right to the child so that the intended parents could take full responsibility.
  • In 1978, a pivotal year in surrogacy’s history, scientists were able to complete what is called an IVF transfer. The reason for this event’s supreme importance is that it marked the first time that a child was born as a result of an implanted embryo into the body of the baby’s non-biological mother.

    Today, nearly every surrogacy that takes place is performed in this manner, meaning the woman who gives birth is NOT biologically related to the child in any way.
  • For a while, both the traditional and gestational methods coexisted, with the gestational style of surrogacy losing out for various reasons. The central issue in the so-called “Baby M” case highlighted the legal and emotional pitfalls of the traditional method of surrogacy. The birth mother of Baby M was also the child’s biological mother.

    Immediately after birth, the mother acted to rescind the legal contract that would have given full custody to the biological father and his wife, who was obviously not related to the child in any way. There was a lengthy legal battle, the result of which was that Baby M’s mother was granted visitation rights, but the father was given full legal custody.

    The case is considered one of the main reasons that, as science and IVF methods advanced, the traditional surrogate agreements fell out of favor with nearly everyone. Additionally, many states witnessed the fiasco of the Baby M case and passed laws that virtually banned the traditional form of surrogacy.
  • Just a year or so before the Baby M case became a worldwide media sensation, the first IVF surrogacy was successfully completed. This happy coincidence led to the establishment of a vast network of support personnel for the gestational form of surrogacy.

    The key difference between the Baby M situation and the first IVF pregnancy is that the birth mother in the IVF surrogacy was not biologically connected to the child.

    She simply carried the baby to term after being implanted with already fertilized embryos from another couple. The legal nightmares of cases like Baby M were a thing of the past once IVF science had advanced far enough to become available to any couple that wanted to take advantage of it.
  • In the new scenario, intended parents can work with a reputable surrogacy agency to locate a willing, healthy mother who can carry their biological child to term.

    Not only is the birth mother (legally called the “surrogate”) compensated for her time, but she and the intended parents undergo extensive counseling, receive whatever medical treatment is needed, and enter into a legally binding agreement that is fair to all parties.
  • What is the most important fact for intended parents and surrogate mothers to know? Working with a vetted, licensed, reputable surrogacy agency is crucial to the successful completion of the process. Of course, the health of the surrogate and the child are the priority during the gestation phase.

    Even before that, a competent agency will make all the legal and financial arrangements so that there are no loose ends or ambiguities once the child is born. The modern surrogacy arrangement begins when intended parents connect with a reliable agency.

    After finding a reputable agency, and once a willing surrogate is located and all the legal agreements are put into place, the medical side of the process begins with thorough examinations and wellness checks throughout the gestation.

    Nothing is left to chance, either from a legal or medical standpoint. That way, all parties get what they want from the surrogacy, the baby is healthy, and the gestational surrogate is compensated fairly for her services.

Surrogacy Arrangement in Modern Times

Surrogacy law environment

The history of surrogacy is a long and legally complex story that began thousands of years ago. However, the modern surrogacy arrangement, as well as the full-blown societal debate about gestational surrogacy vs. traditional surrogacy, did not really start until the 1970s.

At that time, science was beginning to advance to the point where there were multiple options available for parents who wanted to take advantage of assisted reproductive technology so they could have children that were biologically related to them.

Keep in mind that in traditional surrogacy, there was no such person as a “gestational carrier.” The woman who had become impregnated, either naturally or through artificial insemination, was the true biological mother of the child.

In those days, what we now call “traditional surrogacy” was the only option, and the results were often fraught with legal, emotional, and financial problems.

Fortunately, science and newly enacted laws have resolved nearly all the ambiguities and complexities that at one time plagued the process of surrogacy. Today, with a streamlined legal situation and using assisted reproductive technology like artificial insemination and others, the process of surrogacy is a straightforward journey for every gestational carrier and intended parent who takes part in the surrogate agreement.