It's not uncommon for a would-be surrogate mom to back out of an arrangement and decide to keep the baby. But a case in Britain is raising eyebrows because a couple is also being asked for child support for the baby they never got to take home.
The couple, known as Mr. and Mrs. W at the moment, have been ordered to hand over more than £500 (about $785) a month for the now-eight-month-old child by the government's Child Support Agency, according to the Daily Mail. Mr. W is technically the father, since his sperm was used in the insemination. But Mrs. W's eggs were not used. The couple had already allowed the surrogate, known as Miss N, to keep the £4,500 they had given to her for expenses when she told them of her decision.
"She cannot say, 'I am keeping your child and now you must pay for it,' " Mr. W told the paper.
At first glance, the couple seem like the clear victims here, but as blogger Carolyn Castiglia notes, in Britain, surrogacy agreements are not legally binding in court, even with a formal written contract.
The baby's father says he now suspects that this may have been the surrogate's plan all along - to have a child with a wealthy man and claim child support, she reports.
"I'd feel more sympathy for the father in this case if he didn't seem so arrogant, suggesting that 'he would feel more comfortable paying for vouchers which could be redeemed on food and clothing than money which would not necessarily go toward the child,' " she writes, quoting from the Daily Mail article.
The case may resonate in Canada, where so-called "traditional surrogacy," involving only the insemination of the would-be father's sperm, is considered by many to be a legally risky undertaking.
"Few physicians will inseminate a woman knowing that she intends to give up the child and few lawyers would choose to act on behalf of either party given the unreliable result," according to Sherry Levitan, a Toronto lawyer "focused on third party reproductive technology," according to her website.
"Traditional surrogacy has become a self-help remedy and rarely involves a medical facility. With or without a surrogacy agreement, it is impossible to adequately safeguard the rights of the intended parents," she writes. "The lower costs associated with traditional surrogacy make it an attractive option to some, but it carries tremendous legal risk."
So, then, is it right that the couple end up with no baby but with support payments? Caveat emptor?