Surrogate mothers in 2013 at Akanksha Infertility Clinic in Anand, a town in west India. At the time, “surrogacy tourism” was a billion-dollar industry in the country. Photo by Reuters/Mansi Thapliyal

Although altruistic surrogacy is legal in Canada, many would-be parents seek out surrogates abroad in order to realize their dream of having a child. Within the past year, however, tightened international surrogacy laws are gradually bringing this form of “reproductive tourism” to an end.

Hard-to-find altruism

One of the reasons Canadians have resorted to international surrogacy revolves around federal laws that strictly prohibit commercial surrogacy in Canada, which includes paying a third party to help find a suitable surrogate. These restrictions mean few women are willing to volunteer for the job — and the demand for their service is enormous. Some intended parents are compelled to take their search abroad, where regulations are often less stringent. The United States allows commercial surrogacy, typically at a cost of about $119,000, according to Families Through Surrogacy, an Australian consumer-based non-profit organization. But in the developing world, the price drops to $60,000 in Mexico, $47,350 in India, $42,350 in Ukraine and $40,000 in Cambodia (all USD).

Commercial surrogacy shutdown

“India, Nepal, Thailand and Mexico have introduced measures that would limit or ban foreigners from hiring locals as surrogate mothers,” explains Donna Dickenson, a University of London medical ethics professor and expert in the global surrogacy trade. Despite the economic benefits of the surrogacy industry, these countries have begun establishing restrictions on foreign intended parents as a way to protect vulnerable women from exploitation. These fears are not entirely unfounded. In 2014, an Australian couple abandoned their son with their Thai surrogate after learning he had Down syndrome.

Fragile transactions

Rather than force Canadians to look abroad for fertility options, advocates say the country needs laws that regulate and destigmatize commercial surrogacy. A financial transaction between a surrogate and the intended parent(s) acknowledges in no uncertain terms the important service the surrogate has provided. While the possibility of exploitation certainly exists, the relationship between a surrogate and the intended parent(s) can be profound. As Sara R. Cohen, a Canadian lawyer who specializes in fertility law, observes, “One of my clients even named their child after the surrogate.” 

Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!