Surrogacy 'leads to better parenting'

Affordable surrogacy programsThe world's first scientific study to lift the veil on the realities of surrogacy carried out in Britain suggests not only that surrogate mothers have no problem handing over babies, but that the families who receive the child are warmer, happier and more caring than ordinary families.

"It is often assumed that surrogate mothers will have difficulties handing the child over following the birth," said Fiona MacCallum, one of the researchers from City University in London, who will present her preliminary results at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology meeting in Vienna today.

"We found only one instance of the surrogate having slight doubts at this time, with all other mothers reporting no problems. The surrogacy families seem to be characterised by warm relationships and high qualities of parenting."

Hundreds of children have been born to surrogate mothers in Britain in the past two decades. It is estimated that around one surrogate birth takes place every week.

The procedure is still dogged with legal quirks. Until the paperwork is done, the child is still legally the surrogate mother's. More bizarrely, if the surrogate mother is married, her husband is legally the father. British law limits payment to the surrogate of "reasonable expenses", usually a maximum of £10,000.

In some cases the surrogate mother is artificially inseminated with sperm from the intended father, meaning the child is, genetically, half hers; in others, she is implanted with early stage embryos created by conventional IVF treatment using sperm and eggs from the intended parents. There is no genetic connection between surrogate mother and child, but an emotional and physical one.

Ms MacCallum is studying 180 families - 43 with a child by surrogacy, 51 with a child by IVF from donated eggs, and 86 with a naturally conceived child.

Two thirds of the surrogate mothers were strangers to the commissioning couple before the surrogacy agreement was made. The other surrogate mothers were sisters or friends of the intended mother.

Since the child was born, most of the families had kept in touch with the surrogate, and 70% saw her at least once every two months. None of the recipient mothers described conflict or hostility between the two families, and 90% said their relationship with the surrogate was still "very good".

In four aspects of parenting - warmth, emotional involvement, and mothering and fathering qualities - the surrogacy and egg donor families rated higher than natural conception families.

"It should be noted that the natural conception families were all functioning well and were not getting low scores on these measures of parenting - rather the surrogacy and egg donation mothers were getting particularly high scores."

Ms MacCallum, based at City's family and child psychology centre, cautioned that it remained to be seen whether the study's conclusions might alter as time passed. The children in this stage of her research were aged between nine and 12 months.


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