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Minnesota Surrogacy Center
By Stephen Smith
March 20, 1998
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A Minneapolis lawyer says she will open the first center in Minnesota for surrogate motherhood. The program will match infertile couples with women willing to carry a baby for them for a fee. Surrogacy arrangements have been conducted privately in Minnesota for more than a decade, but many infertile couples have to travel to other states to find surrogate mothers. Supporters of the plan say a surrogacy program is badly needed. But the center is already drawing opposition from at least one state lawmaker who would like to outlaw paid surrogacy.

EACH YEAR, MINNEAPOLIS ADOPTION ATTORNEY JUDY VINCENT handles about 15 to 20 surrogacy contracts. She is one of just a handful of Minnesota lawyers who deal with the controversial issue. Now, Vincent wants to open a formal surrogacy center that will recruit and screen surrogate mothers. Many of Vincent's infertile clients now come to her with a friend or relative willing to carry the child. But when couples can't find a volunteer, Vincent says they often have to place ads in newspapers or find surrogates over the Internet. These women typically carry the child for a price.

Vincent: And you don't know whether that person you're talking to is really kind of a kook. Sometimes I've had clients who've gotten involved with someone, and became very close to them, and feel that it will do very well. And then you get the psychological evaluation back, and this person would be a nightmare to work with as a surrogate. So the purpose of the surrogacy center is to do that screening before people get in contact with each other.

The Minnesota Surrogacy Center will open this spring and will charge about $12,000 to arrange a surrogacy. But the total price tag for the intended parents will be much higher. They'll also have to pay the surrogate an additional $10,000, plus all her medical expenses. The total can easily surpass $30,000. Is there really a need for such a program? Surrogacy experts say that the number of babies born through surrogacy each year in Minnesota is fewer than 50, and only a fraction involve paying a stranger to carry the child. But infertility specialist Dr. Randle Corfman of Robbinsdale says surrogacy is the last resort for many infertile couples, and they are often desperate to have a child. He notes that surrogacy programs already exist in a number of other states.

Corfman: We really didn't have access to anything like it in this state and into the upper Midwest. Currently, we refer patients out to Colorado or California for counseling and undergoing surrogacy.

But even before the Minnesota Surrogacy Center has had time to print business cards, it's already drawing criticism. DFL state representative Ann Rest says she will push for a law against paid surrogacy in Minnesota. Nine years ago, Rest led an unsuccessful effort to make it illegal for lawyers or others to arrange surrogacy for a fee and to ban all want-ads for paid surrogates.The bill made it to the floor of the House but stalled in the Senate. When MPR informed Rest about the Minnesota Surrogacy Center opening this spring, she responded grimly,"We'll see about that."

Rest: I'm very disappointed, quite frankly, and I on the other hand, feel quite energized to make sure that if commercial surrogacy is undertaken in Minnesota, it be done under very tight regulations, if not outright banned.

The New Hope legislator is not opposed to surrogacy per se, especially if a sister or relative is volunteering to help out an infertile couple. Rest objects to paid surrogacy, which she condemns as baby selling.

Rest: What makes it different to contract ahead of the birth of the child to receive money for it as opposed to waiting until a child is one year old? If you can do it before the child is born, why not a year after, or two years, or five years, or why not sell a ten-year-old?

Surrogacy proponents reject the notion that compensating a surrogate is paying for the child. They say the $10,000 - $15,000 surrogates typically get in the US is for the time and trouble of getting pregnant and giving birth. Most of the time, a surrogate becomes pregnant with embryos from the intended parents that were conceived in a laboratory dish using that couple's own sperm and eggs. Kris Binsfeld is co-president of Twin Cities Resolve, a non-profit support group for infertile people.

Binsfeld: The money that's being used when you are working toward a surrogacy arrangement isn't purchasing a child. Quite often, people use their own embryos, and so it is their biological child. They are unable to carry a child in the conventional way. So the money that is normally paid to a surrogacy agency or a surrogate is for expenses that are involved. It is quite an expensive procedure.

Infertility doctor Randle Corfman says lawmakers have no business regulating human reproduction.

Corfman: This kind of gets back to the question, "Can legislators legislate morality?" And the answer to that is "no." And so to give the government the power to decide who is going to have children, and who isn't, I think is really stretching what the government is supposed to be about.

One of the greatest risks for Minnesota couples who hire a surrogate now may actually be the lack of government control, or at least the absence of laws on surrogacy. Amy Silberberg is an attorney in Afton who specializes in adoption and surrogacy. She says so far, there have been no custody battles in Minnesota over children born through surrogacy. But that means all parties remain in a state of legal uncertainty.

Silberberg: For one thing, it isn't entirely clear whether surrogacy contracts are enforceable, so it is entirely unclear what would happen in Minnesota if a surrogacy contract went wrong at the last minute.

Silberberg and other attorneys say the problem in Minnesota is that under the law, the birth mother is the legal mother, whether or not the baby is her genetic offspring. Judy Vincent of the Minnesota Surrogacy Center says it's time for the state to rewrite the legal definition of motherhood.

Vincent: It, of course, was until ten years ago the case that when a woman gave birth to a child that was her genetic child and we just haven't changed the law since then.

Lawyer Judy Vincent and the others engaged in the small and controversial world of surrogate motherhood want Minnesota courts to recognize and uphold surrogacy contracts. They also want it made possible for the intended mother to get her name on the baby's birth certificate. Only a handful of other states have such laws. New York and Michigan have laws against paid surrogacy. Minnesota state representative Ann Rest and other opponents of commercial surrogacy are likely to push for a law that would invalidate all surrogacy contracts where a fee is paid. And if she can't ban surrogacy altogether, Rest says she wants to make it as legally unappealing as possible.