Editorial: Surrogacy and equality

On Sunday, demonstrations organized by the LGBT community were held at sites around the country protesting the amendment to the Surrogacy Law last week.

The amendment extended the law that allows surrogate child bearing from married heterosexual couples to single women, but not, as originally called for, to gay couples. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had publicly backed the law, including the amendment that would extend it to “single men,” in effect promising it would cover gay couples. He even told Amir Ohana, an openly gay Likud MK – who together with his male partner is raising two children born in the US to a surrogate – that he would support it. Netanyahu apparently backtracked for fear of the haredi parties’ response.

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The cause drew a huge amount of public support, with scores of major companies announcing that they would allow their employees the day off in order to join the protests.

It was wise of the LGBT groups to move the focus from simply the surrogacy issue to the greater question of equality for all. The law raises serious issues concerning the right of all to parenthood. If surrogacy is allowed for heterosexual couples and single women, it should be extended for homosexual couples.
The surrogate issue grabbed headlines in April 2015 following the devastating earthquake in Nepal. At the time, close to 30 couples were in the country for the births of their children using Indian surrogates in Nepalese facilities. The majority were gay couples; the reunions with their families in Israel after they were airlifted out was heartwarming.

Israel is more than child-friendly, it is child-obsessed. The emotional pain of those who want to have families and can’t – married or single, regardless of sexual orientation – is acute.

Nepal, like India, has since closed its doors to foreigners seeking surrogates. Very few options are available for single men or male couples seeking to pursue the surrogate option. While heterosexual couples can use surrogates in Georgia or Ukraine, almost the only track left available for homosexual couples is in the US – and the costs are often prohibitively high.

Making this option available in Israel would bring it under strict supervision. Here, every effort could be made to ensure that women who offer their wombs are protected and compensated without fear of the enterprise descending into the dark-organ trade fueled by commercial interests. Serious issues lie at stake. The procedures surrounding eligibility under Israel’s surrogacy law are long and complicated. But the law itself, passed in 1996, is among the most liberal in the world. The legislation relates to heterosexual couples and single women who need a surrogate “for medical reasons.”

Currently between 50 and 100 women in Israel a year meet the criteria to serve as surrogate mothers. Should the numbers of those seeking the services of a surrogate dramatically rise, it is not clear how easily the demand could be met without involving greater financial compensation to the women. The physical and psychological effects of the surrogacy procedure on the gestational mothers should not be underestimated.

Every effort must be made to find a way to allow those who want to fulfill their desire for parenthood, regardless of gender, to do so – while at the same time protecting the rights of the women whose wombs are used to nurture the unborn children.

Solutions worth considering include encouraging a well-regulated altruistic track – similar to organ donation – open to those specifically willing to help gay couples in which a female friend or relative could be considered for surrogacy. Another option is to make adoption for gay couples available in Israel.

MK Eli Alaluf, chair of the Knesset Labor and Social Affairs Committee which prepared the bill, apologized after the amendment fell and promised that this is not the end of the story.

Speaking as the father of an adopted child, he said that when he had discovered that he and his wife couldn’t have children, he told a rabbi with whom he consulted, “My dream is that there will be someone to say kaddish at my grave. What can be more Jewish than that?”