Should You Go to Russia for Surrogacy?
G’day. Steven Page from Page Provan Family and Fertility Lawyers. Today I’m talking about surrogacy for Australians in Russia. Now, Russia is as far away in the world as you can get from Australia. Nevertheless, I’ve had clients undertake surrogacy in Russia.
Russia is an interesting destination from a couple of point of views.
The first is in terms of its regulation of surrogacy and how that relates to here. And the second is if you are of Russian origin, the cultural issues to do with being pregnant and engaging in surrogacy.
So I’m going to start with a story. I had an Australian-Russian couple who underwent IVF in Australia. It didn’t work, nothing worked, and they tried to find out what the cause of it was, couldn’t really find out what the cause of it was.
And so they decided to do the same in Russia, and they thought the quality of the IVF in Russia was higher than the quality in Australia. So that’s a bit of a hard to take. But the evidence is what it is. But they got to the point of saying, well, the advice from their Russian specialist was to do surrogacy, and this was a heterosexual married couple, and with that to have egg donation and sperm donations, so they would have no genetic link with the child.
So the first thing to be said about surrogacy in Russia is it may well be commercial surrogacy. So that is a problem if you come from Queensland, New South Wales, ACT, South Australia, Western Australia, because you might be committing a criminal offence, and it is, however, quite regulated. One might think that there is no regulation of it at all. But that’s not the case. The clinics in Russia are highly regulated through the Russian Family Code and also licencing requirements. There has been some stuff on the Internet saying that anyone can undergo surrogacy in Russia.
However, one can see when one looks at the Russian Family Code, and I’m not a Russian speaker. I can’t read Cyrillic, but I can read translations, and the Russian Family Code makes it quite plain that in effect, surrogacy is available to heterosexual married couples, and that’s it. So if you hear that singles can undertake surrogacy in Russia or gay couples can undertake surrogacy in Russia, for example, I’d say, just beware. Just don’t do it.
Nevertheless, this couple decided to proceed and they did it all on their own. I wasn’t involved in the process until the end, and their child was born, and they went to the Australian Embassy in Moscow.
That’s how it used to be done at that point. More recently, if you’re seeking Australian citizenship for your child born in Russia, you have to do it through Australia House, the Australian High Commission in London. But then they went and they filled out the application for citizenship by descent. And when asked, was the child born through a process of surrogacy said, no. Now that may surprise you because of course, that’s what they’d done. They engaged in surrogacy, but they figured, why would they have to tell the Australian government? Let’s leave aside the point that they had likely committed an offence in misleading the Australian government. We go back to the point of why they have to tell they had obtained the consent of the surrogate to change to have them recognised on the birth of it. She’s got a consent. So there have been stories from Russia where surrogates haven’t consented or have attempted to extort intended parents.
So there is a risk of that. The intended parents aren’t automatically recognised as they are, example, in Ukraine, but there wasn’t any of that problem. The clinic was very professional. The agency was very professional. They said, “Well, we’re recognised and we don’t want to have to tell anyone because the expectation in Russian society is that children are conceived the old fashioned way and everyone is happy. If a child is conceived through IVF, that child is then marked down, discounted in some way.”
Imagine if you have sperm and egg donation, what the impact might be on that child and the family and let alone a child in this case who had no genetic connection with the parents and was born through surrogacy. They told a family member. She then said, “This child is not any relative of mine.” They cut that woman out. Chopped. They had to.
Did they tell any other family member of this process? No. The wife wore the baby bump. I thought baby bumps were a story from mythology that they were only worn by Bollywood actresses. No, she wore a baby bump and of course, got the small one and then got the big one because she had to pretend to everyone that she was pregnant, whereas all the time going through surrogacy.
Well, when they came to me and said, dig us out of a hole because the Russian speaking officer at the Australian Embassy in Moscow asked for a copy of the scans, and of course, looked at the Cyrillic and saw that the woman’s name on the scans was not the mother, and they had to face up that they had engaged in surrogacy. They lied and they lied because of their shame because of the cultural context. It was at that point when they contacted me that I remembered that I had done a favour and in turn, a favour had been done for me.
Some years ago, a fertility counsellor in Brisbane called Norell Dickinson contacted me and said, “Stephen, we didn’t really know each other back then. I want a referee because I’m seeking a Churchill fellowship to study Surrogacy around the world.”
And when she made the request of me, I thought, “Why didn’t I think of that?” But nevertheless, I hadn’t. And I said, sure. She didn’t get it. And the year later applied again and put herself through the gruelling process of being cross-examined by, I think, 20 odd people, including a Supreme Court judge and got her fellowship and then travelled at the only time that she could, which was during the Christmas school holidays because she’s got kids and as a result ended up in places such as Chicago and St. Petersburg in winter.
Not something I would ever recommend to do. But nevertheless, Norell did that and afterwards sent me a report of her studies which included these cultural issues in Russia. Because when I got the report, I thought, oh, “I’ll probably never see that again. They’ll never see the light of day.” But there it was.
Here was this report which I happily put together for the Australian government. My clients got their citizenship for their child. I wrote a very persuasive letter for the Australian government about regulation of surrogacy in Russia, along with supporting documents from my clients. And when they had their second child again through surrogacy in Russia, it was a much smoother, cheaper journey for them. I did not have to dig them out of a hole.
So surrogacy in Russia is, I think, reasonably well regulated. But there are issues if you are not a Russian speaker, because clearly there are cultural issues with Russia, it’s a different language and it’s very cold.
I should also say a word of warning. Aside from those who say, if you’re single or you’re gay, you can undertake surrogacy in Russia, and I say don’t. And this comes from a case in Italy.
Back in 2011, an Italian or thereabouts, an Italian couple had undertaken surrogacy in Russia and they used the husband’s sperm.
The child was born. They took the child back to Italy. In the meantime, they had registered the birth with the Italian Embassy in Moscow, and they said they were the parents. Well, they hadn’t told the Italian Embassy that the child had been born through surrogacy. To put it bluntly, Italy hates surrogacy. When the child was eleven months old, Italian officials, after having learned that the child was born through surrogacy, removed the child from their care.
Sadly, the child was never returned. The child was put up for adoption. The Italian couple took the matter all the way through the Italian courts, even up to the European Court of Human Rights and lost. Just appalling stuff that happened. But what they learnt that shocked them was that after the Italian government removed the child, they then did a DNA test. The father was not the genetic father of the child.
The clinic had lied to them. It had made a mistake, or a deliberate error, and deliberately decided that someone else would be the genetic father. So that’s a word of warning about surrogacy in Russia.