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Rethinking “Commercial” Surrogacy in Australia


This article proposes reconsideration of laws prohibiting paid surrogacy in Australia in light of increasing transnational commercial surrogacy. The social science evidence base concerning domestic surrogacy in developed economies demonstrates that payment alone cannot be used to differentiate “good” surrogacy arrangements from “bad” ones. Compensated domestic surrogacy and the introduction of professional intermediaries and mechanisms such as advertising are proposed as a feasible harm-minimisation approach. I contend that Australia can learn from commercial surrogacy practices elsewhere, without replicating them.

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  1. In 2011–2012 there were 519 grants of citizenship to children born in India (Department of Immigration and Citizenship [DIAC] 2013). While it is not possible to identify which of these children was simply born to Australian citizens living abroad, it is notable that while the figure for U.S. births remained stable from 2007–2008 to 2011–2012, the figure for India tripled in that time. Research into both Australian parent reports and foreign clinic and agency reports also indicates a dramatic increase in overseas surrogacy births to Australian over this period and that they were mostly occurring in India (see Everingham 2014).

  2. See discussion in J & G [2013] EWHC 1432. The decision was sent by the Judge to the relevant regulator for action. The British Surrogacy Centre (BSC) of California is a U.K.-based agency specialising in brokering paid surrogacy in the United States. The BSC indicates that it is still in operation and that it recently celebrated the birth of the 100th child born through its service. See

  3. Higher levels of maternal distress were found for mothers who had not disclosed their child’s origins. Surprisingly, the correlation for maternal distress and elevated levels of child difficulties was higher when disclosure had occurred.

  4. There are two further reported cases that pre-date the surrogacy legislation: In Re P [1987] 2 FLR 421 the surrogate refused to relinquish twins; in MW [1995] 2 FLR 789 a dispute arose concerning the surrogate’s contact with the child and she opposed the adoption as a result. Both cases involve genetic surrogacy, and although there was legal assistance in drafting the agreement in Re P there does not appear to have been any counselling or support in either case.

  5. At a recent surrogacy forum five Indian fertility doctors acknowledged, under questioning, multiple birth rates in their surrogacy practice of between 25 percent and 40 percent (Stockey-Bridge 2013). For every birth there is also an unknown number of multiple pregnancies that involved selective foetal reduction or spontaneous miscarriage.

  6. See, for example,;;;


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Thanks to Michaela Stockey-Bridge, Anita Stuhmcke, and the Journal of Bioethical Inquiry’s reviewers for their thoughtful comments and Emma Butler for research assistance.


This research was supported by Discovery Project Grant 0986213 from the Australian Research Council and funding from UTS: Law.


There are no competing interests.

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Correspondence to Jenni Millbank.

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Millbank, J. Rethinking “Commercial” Surrogacy in Australia. Bioethical Inquiry 12, 477–490 (2015).

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  • Surrogate mothers
  • Infertility
  • Reproductive medicine