When you think about the history of surrogacy and how long surrogacy has been around, you may think it’s a fairly new process. To a certain extent, you’re right; surrogacy as we know it today has only been around for the last 30 years. However, the idea of surrogacy has been around for a lot longer — even tracing back to Biblical times.
In this article, we’ll track the history of surrogacy and relevant assisted reproductive technology (ART) to show how it got to where it is today. Understanding this history is crucial when you’re considering surrogacy, as it will help you better comprehend the process, the legalities involved and what you can expect.
Keep reading to learn more about the history of surrogacy:
- Biblical Times: The first mention of surrogacy can be found in “The Book of Genesis” in the story of Sarah and Abraham. Sarah and Abraham were married but could not conceive a child of their own, so Sarah turned to her servant Hagar to be the mother of Abraham’s child. This is a case of traditional surrogacy, where the surrogate uses her own egg in the child she’s carrying for intended parents. Even though Sarah was not biologically related to the baby, she and Abraham both claimed the child as their own. Up until about 30 years ago, traditional surrogacies like these were the only way intended parents could create a child through surrogacy. Traditional surrogacy remained a taboo topic up until the twentieth century due to the stigmas associated with infertility and “illegitimate” children. During this time, surrogate pregnancies would have been conceived naturally — which would be shameful for married couples.
- 1884: The first successful artificial insemination of a woman was completed, although in an ethically questionable way. This paved the way for future artificial inseminations used in the surrogacy process.
- 1975: The first ethically completed IVF embryo transfer was successful.
- 1976: The first legal surrogacy agreement in the history of surrogacy was brokered by lawyer Noel Keane. This was a traditional surrogacy, and the surrogate did not receive any compensation for the pregnancy. Keane used this experience to establish the Infertility Center, which would arrange hundreds of surrogate pregnancies a year and play a key role in the history of surrogacy in the United States.
- 1978: The first baby conceived through IVF transfer was born.
- 1980: The first compensated surrogacy agreement was arranged between a traditional surrogate and the intended parents. Elizabeth Kane (a pseudonym) received $10,000 to carry a baby for another couple. Although she had already completed her family and placed a child for adoption, Kane was unprepared for the emotions of surrogacy and the challenges she faced after giving birth to the baby. She eventually regretted her choice to become a surrogate and wrote about her experiences in a book called Birth Mother.
- 1984–1986: Perhaps the most famous case in surrogacy history is the “Baby M.” case, involving a traditional surrogacy. Bill and Betsy Stern hired Mary Beth Whitehead to be their surrogate in 1984, agreeing to pay her $10,000. Whitehead’s eggs were used in the artificial insemination process, making her the biological mother of the child. When the baby was born and it was time for Whitehead to sign over her parental rights, she refused and took custody of baby Melissa Stern (“Baby M.”) — starting a long custody battle in 1986. The results of the custody case played a key role in the development of some of the stricter surrogacy laws in the U.S. The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that the surrogacy agreement between Whitehead and the Sterns was illegal and, therefore, restored Whitehead’s parental rights. Custody was granted to Bill Stern, with Whitehead receiving visitation rights.This case marked a huge turning point in the history of surrogacy, and, not surprisingly, many surrogacy professionals began to move toward the use of gestational surrogacy to avoid these legal entanglements.
- 1985: While the “Baby M.” case was going on, the first successful gestational surrogacy was completed, paving the way for future gestational surrogacies to be the norm.In the 30 years to follow, states would continue to place restrictions on traditional surrogacies and surrogacy in general. In response, lawyers and legislators began to establish ways that intended parents could protect their parental rights in surrogacy — usually through a pre-birth or post-birth parentage order.Surrogacy agencies and surrogacy professionals also became more prominent and more experienced, making it easier for both intended parents and prospective surrogates to learn more and participate in the process.
- 2004–2008: Almost 5,000 children were born via surrogacy in the United States.
Clearly, surrogacy has come a long way from where it was before the late twentieth century. Today, the combination of rapidly advancing medicine and the different types of surrogacy available make it easier than ever for intended parents to complete their family and for prospective surrogates to change the lives of others forever. The history of surrogacy is just beginning — and, with its ever-changing nature, it’s reasonable to expect more will be added to the story in the future.
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