How Babies Are Made Now

Technology and the law have turned Oregon into an international destination for a radical kind of fertility treatment.

What is surrogacy?

For centuries, couples unable to have children have turned to surrogacy—when a woman carries a baby for another couple by being inseminated with the father's sperm. The practice, now called traditional surrogacy, can be traced back to the Old Testament.

Technical advances in the past 30 years made possible a procedure called gestational surrogacy—when a woman becomes pregnant with a baby who does not share her DNA. Through in vitro fertilization, an egg (often from an egg donor) is fertilized in a lab, and the resulting embryo is implanted in the surrogate mother. The first successful gestational surrogacy birth in the world was in 1986.

This is the procedure used by Jordan Schnitzer and Cory Sause.

Gestational surrogacy is used when a woman cannot get pregnant or carry a pregnancy for medical or psychological reasons. Gay men have also turned to gestational surrogacy as a way of having children.

More controversial is the small number of women turning to surrogacy to avoid the inconveniences of pregnancy—what Elle magazine in 2014 labeled "social surrogacy" and others have called "vanity surrogacy."

In some instances, money changes hands with gestational surrogacy—a controversial practice, which is allowed in parts of the United States but banned in one form or another in most of the developed world. Last year, Thailand, India and Nepal banned paid surrogacy, at least by foreign couples.

How many surrogate pregnancies of this kind take place nationally?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention puts the number of gestational surrogate pregnancies in the U.S. at 1,614 in 2013, an increase of 45 percent in just five years.

How are the surrogacy laws different in Oregon than in other states?

There are no federal regulations on surrogacy, and states are left to themselves.

Oregon is among seven states in the nation considered the most amenable to surrogacy, according to Creative Family Connections, a national surrogacy agency and law firm based in Maryland. That's because lawmakers have placed no limits or regulation on the practice of paid gestational surrogacy in Oregon.

"Oregon is considered very friendly," says Robin Pope, a Beaverton gestational-surrogacy and adoption lawyer, "in part because we have no formal law saying you can't do [gestational surrogacy]."

For example, women in Oregon can accept money for surrogacy. That's not allowed in several U.S. states—including New York, Michigan and Oregon's northern neighbor Washington—according to Creative Family Connections.

How much does gestational surrogate pregnancy cost?

Around the country, surrogacy agencies—it's hard to say how many, because they are largely unregulated—have jumped into the business of matching women willing to serve as surrogates with couples who are hoping to have a baby.

At Northwest Surrogacy Center, one of the state's largest agencies, the cost of having a baby through surrogacy is between $125,000 and $170,000, estimates John Chally, a director and founder of the agency. (He's also a lawyer with Bouneff & Chally, which is representing Jordan Schnitzer.) The amount includes legal fees, money for the surrogate mother and the agency brokering the deal and the services of a fertility clinic.

How much do surrogates get paid?

Surrogates are paid roughly $4.50 for every hour of pregnancy. Diane Hinson, owner and founder of Creative Family Connections, says the average payment pencils out to $30,000 to $35,000.

Is it really possible to select the sex of a baby?

Yes. A test, called preimplantation genetic diagnosis, makes it possible to biopsy one cell of the newly formed embryo and test it for genetic defects as well as sex before it is transferred to the womb. The parents can choose the sex they want, then implant only embryos of that sex into a womb.

According to the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology, the test was used more than 10,000 times in 2013, the latest number for which data is available. It's still a highly controversial test used in only 6 percent of in vitro fertilization cycles in 2013. Cost is also a factor: It runs upward of $3,000.

Court filings in the Sause and Schnitzer case say that Sause signed off on PGD for the embryo.

"A lot of people today are doing testing," Chally says. "It also discloses whether it's male or female. It would be naive for me to think that people aren't making a choice."

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