With celebrities like Lucy Liu and Tyra Banks raising awareness for surrogacy as a way of starting a family, it may seem as if surrogacy is a modern idea, just coming onto the scene. In reality, surrogacy has been practiced in various forms for millennia. Of course, the methods and medical technologies were far different just a few decades years ago than they are today. As an intended parent, you might be curious about the developing practices related to surrogacy and how they evolved into today’s refined process.
Ancient Forms of Surrogacy
Early forms of surrogacy were quite primitive. If a woman were infertile, her husband could arrange to have a child with another woman. In many cases, the child was then taken from the surrogate and given to the original couple. An early example of this ancient practice is recorded in the Bible. A woman named Sarah offers her maid to her husband, Abraham, since Sarah herself is infertile. The maid bears the child, but she is not considered to be Abraham’s wife. Babylonian law also includes a mention of this practice.
Fertilization and Cryopreservation
It wasn’t until centuries later, in 1944, that medical technology made significant strides toward modern forms of assisted reproduction. During that year, John Rock, a professor at Harvard Medical School, was able to fertilize a human egg in a lab setting. In 1953, sperm was successfully cryopreserved for the first time.
The First IVF Baby
The first baby born through in vitro fertilization (IVF) arrived in 1978. Her name was Louise Brown, and she was born in England.
The First Surrogacy Contract
In 1980, a couple arranged for a paid traditional surrogacy arrangement with a 37-year-old woman. Traditional surrogacy means that the surrogate mother’s egg is used, so the child is biologically related to her. In this 1980 case, a lawyer in Michigan named Noel Keane designed the contract, the first of its kind in the United States.
The First Pregnancy Via Egg Donation
In 1983, for the first time ever, a woman was able to successfully sustain a pregnancy and birth a baby using an egg that was not her own.
The First Gestational Surrogacy
The first successful gestational surrogacy occurred in 1985. The surrogate went through the IVF process and carried the baby to term.
Surrogacy and Important Legal Cases
During the late 1980s and the 1990s, several legal cases rose to prominence. In New Jersey, the courts had to deal with the case of Mary Beth Whitehead, baby Melissa’s biological mother and a traditional surrogate. Mary Beth refused to give Melissa to the biological father and his wife because she had become so attached to the baby. The court decided that the surrogacy agreement was both invalid and illegal, but they required her to give Melissa to the couple anyway, out of concern for the baby’s best interests.
Another important case involved Anna Johnson, a gestational carrier for Crispina and Mark Calvert. Because of the court ruling in Calvert v. Johnson, the law legally defines the parents of the baby born via surrogacy as the people who intended to create and raise the child. The term “intended parents,” now widely used in the surrogacy community, comes from this seminal case.
Today, there are plenty of legal precedents and ample support for gestational and traditional surrogacy. With the presence of surrogacy agencies, support groups, medical and psychological screenings, ample donor options, and refined IVF technologies, intended parents can begin the process with much more confidence. To ensure that your journey to parenthood is as smooth as possible, enlist the aid of a talented reproductive lawyer who can draft the necessary documents and advise you throughout the process.
About Attorney Nicole K. White
As a mother by gestational surrogacy and as a surrogacy lawyer, my goal is to help you experience the joy and fulfillment of starting or growing a family of your own through third party reproduction. Because I am a mother by gestational surrogacy, I know firsthand what you will need – answers to your questions, support and guidance – and what you will go through when starting your family. My experience as a surrogacy lawyer helps me guide you through the financial, emotional and legal aspects of surrogacy. I can say with confidence that few (if any) attorneys deliver the unique insight I can bring to your surrogacy journey.