Bioethics Blogs

Is it time to legalize commercial surrogacy in Canada?

Karen Busby suggests that the safety, security and well-being of surrogate mothers, the children they bear and the intended parents may be better protected through regulatory regimes than criminal prohibitions.


A British Columbia couple (Greg and Elaine Smith) have learned, the hard way, that there are many perils to international surrogacy. After signing a comprehensive contract with a Mexican clinic, the Smiths thought they had covered all the bases. But when their twins were born prematurely and could not breathe on their own, the couple read the fine print. The clinic was not responsible for intensive care medical costs. British Columbia (like most provincial governments) does not pay for offshore care and so the couple faced crippling medical bills.

The couple also recently learned that they were not legally recognized as the twin’s parents. Almost everywhere in the world, the woman who gives birth is, at law, recognized as the child’s parent unless and until a court order changes that status. Most countries prohibit surrogacy and therefore forbid judicial authorities from giving intended parents the legal status of parent. Countries that do permit surrogacy often have complicated parentage rules— often requiring an independent investigation into the circumstances of the birth before a birth certificate can be issued in the names of the intended parents. States have a legitimate interest in ensuring that children born within their borders are not subject to baby selling, or that unscrupulous parties are not trying to avoid local adoption rules.

Gustav Klimt, Hope II (1907)

In addition to a birth certificate, children born of international surrogacy also require a passport to enter the intended parents’ country of residence.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.