Researcher seeks clear rules on surrogate motherhood

3 October 2019

Sweden should create a clear regulation covering legal parenting after arrangements have been made for surrogate motherhood. This is Anna Arvidsson’s conclusion in her doctoral thesis from the Department of Women’s and Children’s Health at Uppsala University.

Anna Arvidsson, International Maternal and Child
Health, Uppsala University.

Surrogate motherhood, undergoing a pregnancy on behalf of another person, is a controversial and legally complex process. Sweden does not allow assisted conception if the purpose is a surrogacy arrangement, but Swedish couples are allowed to turn to clinics in countries where it is allowed. However, the absence of other regulation tends to complicate the process of legal parenting. In her dissertation, Anna Arvidsson, a doctoral student at Uppsala University, presents a multifaceted picture of the perspectives surrounding the situation.

“I have talked with people in India where many western couples have travelled to realise their dream of a child,” Arvidsson says. “I have met with family law secretaries and, above all, interviewed several Swedish couples who have had children through surrogacy arrangements in the United States and India. In most cases this has been a last resort when everything else has been tried, and what strikes me most is how much many people are prepared to go through to become parents.”

A common denominator for parents who have had children through surrogate arrangements in India is that they describe the agreement as favourable for both parties. They help a woman from poor circumstances to a better life, and in return she helps them to have a long sought after child. Some of the couples also indicate that they have wanted to assist the surrogate mother’s own children in ways that went beyond the agreement entered into.

“Several of those who chose India over the United States gave financial reasons for their decision because it essentially cut their spending in half, while at the same time they firmly opposed the interpretation that this had to do with exploiting poor women. For example, many argued that surrogate motherhood is more meaningful than low-paying textile industry jobs, a line of reasoning endorsed by the surrogate mothers themselves, according to previous research,” says Arvidsson.

Ambivalence and continued trials

The thesis also shows that several of the couples who chose India experienced concern about both the surrogate mother’s health and whether she really had controlled the financial compensation after completing her pregnancy.

“This contributes to an ambivalence not experienced by couples who turned to the U.S., a country that allows surrogate arrangements only for altruistic reasons, even if financial compensation is involved. There the parties involved had closer contact, and the surrogate mother had substantiated stable personal finances.”

For many of the couples, the time after the child’s birth also meant a trial fully comparable with what led up to it. The lack of regulations means that the individual family law secretary needs to make legal parenting decisions without clear guidelines. The experiences vary from municipality to municipality, and on repeated occasions the process has dragged on.

“Several family law secretaries perceive transnational surrogate events as a way of circumventing the law, and although all parties have the best interests of the child in mind, a number of cases have been referred to the district court. This, in turn, could result in children having no legal custodians for an extended period, while the couples feel that their status as parents is challenged,” says Anna Arvidsson.

 "The focus need to be on the child’s well-being"

Since work on the thesis began, India has changed the rules for surrogate arrangements and currently allows only Indian nationals to use this method of reproduction. Instead, more and more Swedish couples are turning to clinics in Georgia, Ukraine and Russia. The administrative process has been somewhat streamlined to the extent that the biological father’s status as legal parent needs to now be established even before the child arrives in Sweden (note that children born in the U.S. can travel to Sweden with an American passport). However, after returning home, the biological father’s partner has to go through a process to legally adopt the child.

“Surrogate motherhood is and remains a hot issue. No authority seems willing to facilitate transnational arrangements, while everyone agrees that the focus need to be on the child’s well-being. No Swedish studies have yet surveyed how this affects the children’s mental and physical health, but my results show that Sweden needs to regulate legal parenting following surrogacy arrangements. As it is today, there is unnecessary worry and uncertainty among both parents and family law secretaries, which ultimately affects the individual child.”



Challenges of transnational parenthood – Exploring different perspectives of surrogacy in Sweden and India, Anna Arvidsson, Uppsala: Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis, 2019, p. 118.