BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Spanish Russian Chinese Welsh

 You are in:  Health: Background Briefings
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Background Briefings 
Medical notes 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Wednesday, 14 October, 1998, 16:36 GMT 17:36 UK
Thirteen years of controversy
Karen Roche and the child she bore for 12,000
The UK's first's commercial surrogate child is now a teenager.

In 1985, the story of Britain's first surrogate mother, Kim Cotton, was front page news, yet surrogacy is now a common event, with an estimated one surrogate baby born a week in the UK alone.

Many are friends and relatives helping out a couple who are unable to conceive.

However, in some cases agreements have broken down and there is widespread concern about many issues connected to surrogacy.

There are fears that some women are profiting from the activity and there are even cases when mothers have refused to hand over the child.

There is currently no legal obligation to do so as the deal between surrogate mothers and commissioning couples is not legally binding.

Psychological effects

Concerns also exist over the physical and psychological effects of a child leaving its natural mother.

Professor Margaret Brazier, who led the team proposing new recommendations on surrogacy, said people would inituitively think there was a closer bond between the genetic mother and her child.

However, she added that evidence did not yet support this view.

Surrogacy has become more popular because of social changes, including a falling number of children available for adoption.

Supporters such as Kim Cotton say that, if handled properly, it is ideal for couples who are unable to conceive.

Ms Cotton was paid 6,500 for 1985's historic birth, and in 1988 set up the group Childlessness Overcome Through Surrogacy (COTS).

Dragged into gutter

COTS, a non-profit group, has helped 200 couples.

Most cases have been routine, although one went badly wrong last year.

Ms Cotton said Karen Roche, a maternity nurse from Scarborough, had spoilt 12 years of work "trying to bring surrogacy out of the gutter".

Clemens Peeters: Angry natural father in Roche case
Under a COTS-organised agreement, Mrs Roche had agreed to bear a child for Clemens and Sonia Peeters from the Netherlands, where commercial surrogacy was banned in 1993.

Under current UK law, Mrs Roche accepted a 12,000 fee for "reasonable" expenses, but then fell out with the Peeters and refused to hand the baby over.

At first, Mrs Roche said the baby had been aborted, before attempting to strike a deal with a seperate British couple.

Mr Peeters accused Mrs Roche of using the child as "merchandise that could be sold to the highest bidder".

Big money abroad

The Roche case led to COTS deciding not to deal with couples from overseas.

However, some UK couples have been going to the US where the laws on surrogacy vary from state to state, and profit-making agencies charge up to 40,000.

This is split roughly four ways, with a quarter going to the surrogate mother, and another portion being spent on medical costs such as doctors, laboratories and drugs.

A third quarter is shared between psychologists and legal and insurance costs, with the last portion being the agency's profit margin.

That sort of figure does not stop many couples, particularly the rich 57-year-old movie star Raquel Welch, who said this year that she was prepared to pay 30,000 for a surrogate baby.

In the UK, the limit for expenses was set at 10,000 in 1985 when legislation was first introduced and has remained unchanged.

Earlier this year, it was claimed that Lynette Southall, who the tabloids labelled "The Baby Factory", had given birth to six surrogate babies, earning 15,000.


But finance and legal issues are not the only controversial aspects about surrogacy.

Some are worried about the ethics of "twins" conceived from the same egg who can be implanted separately and born 22 months apart.

Supporters of surrogacy insist that such cases are the exception rather than the rule, and that the practice has helped thousands of couples become happy, responsible parents.

child eating
Happier case: 10-month-old James Harvey was born from a surrogate mother
Ten-month-old James Harvey is one such case. His mother Carol could not carry him because she had a hysterectomy following cancer treatment.

The Harveys struck a deal with a surrogate mother and are now the proud parents of James.

"I feel very lucky," said Carol.

Public health minister Jowell commissioned the independent review in June 1997.

The move came after several high-profile cases involving surrogacy arrangements.

These include the case of surrogate mother Karen Roche, who changed her mind about handing over a baby after doubting the suitability of the Dutch couple, who had been willing to pay 12,000 for the child.

Mrs Roche first claimed she had terminated the pregnancy.

The government's review has been trying to discover a way of protecting the various parties when things go wrong without destroying the hopes of the couples who seek to benefit from it.

There are currently two main laws on surrogacy, which will be replaced under the new proposals.

The 1985 Surrogacy Arrangements Act bans commercial surrogacy (beyond the payment of reasonable expenses) and advertising for surrogates.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 amended the 1985 Act to ensure that any woman who has a baby does not have to give it up if she changes her mind.

In addition, under the 1990 Act a court can rule that a child resulting from a surrogacy arrangement can be treated in law as the child of a married couple who sought the arrangement, providing certain conditions are met.

BBC News
Surrogate mother Claire Austin talks about the government review
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Background Briefings stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Background Briefings stories