Bioethics Blogs

Hidden from View: Canadian Surrogacy

Pamela M. White questions why we know so little about Canadian surrogacy practices and outcomes.

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Canadian researchers, ethicists, and lawyers often lament the fact that there exists very little empirical data about Canadian surrogacy practices and outcomes. As a former Statistics Canada Director and data analyst (now teaching medical law and ethics at the Kent Law School, Canterbury, United Kingdom) this data deficit has long intrigued me.

Both traditional surrogacy (where the woman is genetically related to the child she gives birth to) and gestational surrogacy (where the woman is not genetically related to the child she gives birth to) are legally permitted in Canada. In both cases, the arrangements must be altruistic, since commercial surrogacy is not permitted.

Though altruistic surrogacy is legal in Canada, attempts to find information about the kind of women who choose to be surrogates, the type of surrogacy that is commonly practiced, and how many children are born to Canadian surrogates, have been challenging.

I have not been able to obtain statistics on the incidence of traditional surrogacy. Whether artificial insemination of a surrogate occurs in a fertility clinic or at home without the involvement of a medical practitioner, surrogacy procedures are not currently recorded in any existing assisted human reproduction data system.

I have been able to gather some information about gestational surrogacy, even so the findings are limited. In theory, data from gestational surrogacy could be more easily tracked than data about traditional surrogacy because it requires IVF, which must be performed in a fertility clinic. However, Canada, unlike the United States or the United Kingdom, does not require fertility clinics to transmit IVF treatment data to a public health authority.  The 2004 Assisted Human Reproduction Act envisaged the creation of a Personal Health Information Registry.

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.