March 3, 2024

Canada’s surrogacy industry has a seedy side

Commercial surrogacy is a many-faceted problem, ethically, medically, and politically. One feature which seldom surfaces in sanitised accounts of surrogacy is the business side. As Canadian journalist Alison Motluk points out in a long article in the online magazine Hazlitt, it is an industry which seems to invite shady business practices.

Motluk is the editor of a weekly newsletter on reproductive technology, HeyReprotech. She discusses the situation in Canada, where, like other countries, the legal status of surrogacy is far from clear. According to Canada’s 2004 Assisted Human Reproduction Act, surrogates may not be paid for carrying a child and surrogacy brokers are banned. These guidelines sound clear, but in practice, they are full of loopholes and grey areas. Surrogates can be reimbursed for reasonable expenses and intermediaries are flourishing. Motluk believes that between nine and two dozen surrogacy brokers are operating in Canada. She focuses on a company called Canadian Fertility Consultants, as a case study of Canada’s “treacherous surrogacy situation”.

A fundamental problem is that there is a shortage of Canadian women who are willing to be surrogates. This often creates problems as the intermediaries manipulate the desperation of the parents, stringing them along until it turns out that a surrogate is not available. Transparency in managing expenses is a big problem.

… what has emerged in Canada is more of a “faux-altruistic” model, where the surrogate appears not to be profiting, but actually can profit, at least a bit.

From what I’ve seen, Canadian surrogacy works most smoothly when everyone understands the wink-wink nature of the arrangement—that agencies really are matchmakers, that parents sometimes pay what amounts to flat fees, that surrogates really are sometimes getting paid a small sum on top of real expenses. No one talks about it because it might not be legal. But because they don’t talk about it, sometimes not all the parties are in the know.