An Indian woman who was pregnant with twins for a Norwegian couple died of hepatitis shortly after giving birth last fall. One of the twins died as well, and the fatalities resulting from Norwegians desperate to have children is likely to fire up the debate over surrogacy once again.
Newspaper Aftenposten reported Tuesday that the surrogate mother in India took on the job of giving birth for the Norwegian couple “to earn money for her family.” That may fuel the argument against surrogacy by critics, including Norway’s own state directorate for children’s and family issues (Bufetat), who equate it with human trafficking.
Illegal, but not punishable
Surrogacy remains illegal in Norway, and egg donation is also illegal under the current laws on biotechnology. Norway’s government-backed health ministry has, however, proposed revising the law to ensure that private persons won’t be punished if they, for example, hire a surrogate mother in other countries where surrogacy is legal, such as in India and the US.
Many prominent Norwegians including the former chief of the state police Øystein Mæland and actor Geir Kvarme have hired surrogate mothers themselves to have children in the US. Crown Princess Mette-Marit also traveled to India late last summer to look after two babies born to a surrogate mother on behalf of gay friends in Norway who had experienced delays in obtaining visas to travel to India themselves.
Her involvement could have been viewed as abetting a crime, and debate broke out last fall over whether state police chief Mæland had broken the law himself. Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg found himself in an awkward position in both cases, reluctant to criticize the crown princess and also because he’s a personal friend of Mæland’s. Stoltenberg thus refused to answer questions on the issue posed to him in Parliament, claiming he had a conflict of interest in the case involving Mæland, who later resigned his position but for other reasons.
Making the law ‘more precise’
Instead the government, fronted by the health ministry, is opting to “make the current law more precise” according to one of Stoltenberg’s fellow Labour Party members, state secretary Nina Tangnæs Grønvold in the ministry. She stresses that Norway’s biotechnology law doesn’t apply outside Norway, and that the law change proposed just before last week’s Easter holiday merely clarifies that purchase of surrogacy services in other countries can’t be prosecuted in Norway.
Even the government coalition is itself split on the issue, however, with several Members of Parliament for the coalition member Center Party saying they won’t vote to change the law. “When the government is so explicit in saying that breaking the biotechnology law won’t have consequences, it’s making surrogacy abroad legitimate,” MP Kjersti Toppen for the Center Party told Aftenposten.
Surrogate mother’s death highlights risk
Meanwhile, the surrogate mother’s death after childbirth in India set off more concerns over surrogacy, both at home and abroad. “It illustrates the high degree of risk involved, even though the births generally go well,” anthropologist Kristin Engh Førde, who’s writing her doctoral thesis on surrogacy in India, told Aftenposten. Førde noted that surrogate mothers are often recruited among poor women motivated by the prospect of being paid to bear others’ children.
“Pregnancy and birth are tied to unpredictability for all of us,” Førde said. “Things can happen, and surrogacy contracts should reflect that.”
The Indian woman who died after giving birth for the Norwegians had other children of her own. Asked whether they received any compensation, Aftenposten was told her children would be looked after by their father and her brother’s family. A friend of the deceased surrogate mother said the children also received the equivalent of around NOK 31,000 (USD 5,300).
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
Please support our news service. Readers in Norway can use our donor account. Our international readers can click on our “Donate” button: