Surrogacy may seem like a new medical procedure, but that is far from reality. While gestational surrogacy developed in the last fifty years, traditional surrogacy can be traced to the beginnings of recorded human history.
How long has surrogacy been around? Let’s review the history of surrogacy from the beginning until now to learn how it started and what it is today.
Surrogacy is one of the oldest medical procedures still used today. Some medical procedures have transformed over time, and surrogacy has changed in many ways. However, some surrogacies are still similar to the way it was performed in the beginning. Traditional surrogacy can still happen the way it did in the times of Abraham and Sarah, but modern medicine has also developed new procedures that make it possible to carry a child for someone else without using your own eggs or having intercourse with the intended father.
Turp et al. explore the history and practice of fertility treatments in a recent article in Gynecological Endocrinology. They note that surrogacy has been a desired childbearing option for at least the last 4,000 years. At least one marriage contract in an ancient text describes traditional surrogacy. While this reproductive option may be older than that, its occurrence in a biblical written text proves that women have often longed for motherhood and a child to call their own.
Many Christians will remember that Sarah was childless and longed for a child. She gave Hagar, her servant, to Abraham to conceive a child. When Hagar gave birth, the child was taken as Abraham and Sarah’s rather than Hagar’s, and thus began traditional surrogacy.
Surrogacy would continue in this or a similar manner for hundreds of years. For example, Native Americans also practiced surrogacy in the same way, and traditional surrogates played an important role in the Spanish royal family in the twelfth century.
From the time of Abraham and Sarah until the 1970s, not much changed. The first successful artificial insemination procedure was performed in 1884. This procedure was not at all medically ethical and did not become a common procedure. The parents were not aware of the use of donor sperm until years later. While the parents chose not to pursue legal action, these ethical violations would never be tolerated today. However, this procedure presented a new way for traditional surrogacy to occur without sexual intercourse between the surrogate and the biological father.
According to Dr. Mary Hinkley of the Reproductive Science Center, it would be more than forty years after this procedure before the first fertility clinic would open in the US.
There has been a need for surrogacy and fertility intervention since the beginning of time, but it was not until the early twentieth century that fertility clinics finally opened thanks to breakthroughs in medical science and reproduction.
Major Developments in Modern Medicine
Because scientists and doctors had been working for centuries to understand reproduction, they would eventually figure out how to manipulate the process for infertile couples.
Invitro-fertilization (IVF) had been researched since at least the early 1930s, if not before, with few advancements.
Doctors and scientists knew that this development would help more parents achieve their goals of starting families. While IVF and surrogacy are not the same things, gestational carriers would not be possible without this technology.
As gestational surrogacy continued to evolve, some major events affected traditional surrogacy. In 1976, the first legal surrogacy agreement was drafted. While this journey was unpaid, an agreement that included compensation was completed just a few years later.
Development of Gestational Surrogacy
Surrogacy was becoming more and more commonplace, especially because IVF and egg-donation achievements had been made. In 1978, the first baby conceived through IVF transfer was born in the UK, and in 1983, the first baby conceived with donated eggs was born in Australia. In 1985, thanks to the combination of IVF and egg donation, the first gestational journey was completed. This breakthrough created a way for women who could not carry children to still be the biological mother. At the same time that gestational was made medically possible, the legal system was advancing to include surrogacy laws and regulations.
The Case that Changed the Process of Surrogacy
Just as gestational surrogacy was taking off, a traditional surrogate initiated a legal battle that would last two years. This case was known as the “Baby M Case.” The traditional surrogate initially refused to give up the baby after her birth, which sparked a legal battle in the New Jersey court system. The final decision was that the traditional, biological surrogate mother had some rights to the child. While the intended parents were given full custody, the surrogate was given visitation rights.
The “Baby M. case” was critical in the history of surrogacy. This case singlehandedly changed laws surrounding surrogacy across the US and caused surrogacy specialists and intended parents to begin to prefer gestational surrogacy over traditional surrogacy to avoid these legal entanglements.
The Future of Surrogacy
The concept of surrogacy and the technology involved is becoming more and more developed every day. In 2016, a 67-year-old grandmother gave birth to her own grandchild. This surrogate is the oldest on record. Recently, a new development for sperm has allowed HIV positive men to be sperm donors without passing on the disease to their children. This development is significant in the history of surrogacy because HIV positive men with a low enough viral load can now use surrogates and their own sperm.
Surrogacy has aided families for centuries, and new medical advances continue to improve couples’ and individuals’ chances of becoming parents, even if they experience medical issues or infertility. It will be fascinating to see what new technologies do in the future to help people realize their dreams of becoming parents.