Israel is a master at improvisation - coping with catastrophes without much preparation. But the bureaucracy is no wizard when it comes to making long-term plans or assessing what it has already done. Thus it took a law professor at the University of California to conduct a serious study of Israel's pioneering surrogate motherhood arrangements, which have been in effect for nearly a decade and has produced nearly 80 babies, including 16 sets of twins.
Prof. Kelly Weisberg, who spent 1997/8 teaching a seminar at The Hebrew University on the "Comparative Law of Reproductive Control," has just published a 291-page book, The Birth of Surrogacy in Israel. Published by the University Press of Florida ($59.95 plus tax, from www.upf.com/catalogbooks.asp), the volume is a lesson on how to evaluate the success or failure of major policy changes and their implementation over several years. Extensively researched, the volume has 40 pages of footnotes (including 18 citations of Jerusalem Post articles by this reporter).
Weisberg says Israel's Surrogacy Law, which went into effect in 1996 and was the first of its kind in the world, is a "most progressive" model for other countries, even though they could eliminate some of the restrictions mandated by the demands of halacha (Jewish law). Although more than 10,000 babies have been born by surrogacy around the world, she writes, no other country has passed detailed legislation to regulate and supervise it. Instead, they either ban it outright or grudgingly turn a blind eye, knowing it is going on privately but making no effort to interfere or protect those involved.
"My research convinced me that surrogate motherhood can work. Interviews with those in the law reform process, as well as surrogates and infertile couples, led me to believe that surrogacy can bring happiness and fulfillment. Rather than constituting a threat to the family, surrogacy reaffirms the family," Weisberg writes. "It enables couples to become parents who could not achieve that goal by any other means. It brings children into the world who are truly cherished."
ALTHOUGH SOME Israeli feminist groups vehemently opposed surrogacy because they feared poor women would be pressured to "rent out" their wombs, Weisberg interviewed surrogates who carried babies for other women unable to conceive or deliver them and found they regarded themselves as "incubators" and surrogacy as "one of the most moving experiences of their lives."
She quotes one surrogate as saying: "It makes you a very special woman... To know that you're going to give a baby to a couple who can't have a family. It makes you a bigger person, a much happier person." Even a surrogate named Sarah whose complaints about the "control-freak" genetic parents of the baby she carried told Weisberg that if she had been matched with a nicer couple, she would have felt differently.
The author (who was helped by HU anthropology graduate Elly Teman, her translator when she interviewed surrogates and couples) said in an interview that she has been interested in surrogacy "for a very long time, probably because surrogacy has deep roots in Berkeley, California - the town where I went to law school. The first ad for a surrogate mother appeared in a Berkeley underground newspaper (the Berkeley Barb) in the 1970s." It said: "Wife is looking for a healthy, blue-eyed woman who is willing to carry my husband's child. All expenses paid plus $4,000."
Weisberg adds that surrogacy "resonated with me because I suffered through years of infertility myself - so I could really identify with couples who were yearning to have a child. "