IFLG Ukraine War Changes International Surrogacy Landscape Rich Vaughn

Ukraine War Changes International Surrogacy Landscape

The daily images of mass graves, blasted out apartment buildings and long lines of refugees attest to the terrible toll of war. Ukraine will never be the same, nor will Europe nor the world.

One change is Ukraine’s role as a popular destination for international surrogacy and other types of assisted reproduction. All that changed abruptly with the Russian invasion, leaving hundreds of surrogates, foreign intended parents, newborn babies and reproductive medical professionals in limbo and in danger for their lives. The outcome is likely to be a shifting of the international surrogacy “map,” as well as to the way in which surrogacy agreements address the uncertainties of a world at war.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has revealed many heroes—mothers struggling to get their children to safety, ordinary working men and women taking up arms to defend their nation, a president standing defiantly in harm’s way to inspire and lead his people.

Assisted Reproduction War Heroes

The reproductive health profession also has seen its war heroes. The New York Times caught the world’s attention with its report of rows of babies born by surrogacy, waiting in a Kyiv basement for foreign parents unable to get into the country to establish legal parentage and take them home. Their heroes are the nurses who refuse to abandon them, sheltering from Russian shells while tending to their helpless charges for who knows how long. “Of course we cannot abandon the babies,” one 51-year-old nurse tells the Times, even though her husband and two sons, all serving with the Ukrainian defense, urge her to leave.

Another professional who matches international intended parents with Ukrainian surrogates was forced to flee Kyiv with two newborns, hoping to meet up with their parents at a safer location. A surrogate, after giving birth to twin boys in a Kharkiv hospital under bombardment, traveled across Ukraine with the newborns and her own two sons to meet the intended parents at the border, as reported by BBC.

One expectant surrogate, married with one son of her own, told the Times she would not leave Kyiv, where her husband serves as a volunteer for the Ukraine defense. She is pregnant with twins, whose genetic parents in China want her to evacuate to another European country for the birth. She worries about the consequences: In many of those bordering countries, she, as the birth mother, would be deemed the legal guardian of the twins, further complicating their reunion with their parents.

Although many Ukrainians were skeptical Russia would really invade, some intended parents saw the runup to war and took action beforehand. One French couple moved to Ukraine in November to be near their surrogate and her family in Lviv, but left documentation proving their parentage behind in France, The New York Times reported.

On the day Russia invaded, another expectant couple drove toward war, leaving their home in Germany for Poland and then Ukraine, braving checkpoints and tanks to reach their twin daughters, born prematurely to a surrogate on March 4. The babies spent much of their first days in the hospital’s basement shelter, their parents uncertain how or when they will be able to take them home.

Ukraine War Endangers Frozen Embryos

But the impacts of the Russian invasion on intended parents and their families aren’t limited to those with surrogacies in progress: Ukraine offers a broad range of fertility services, including egg and sperm harvesting, in vitro fertilization and cryopreservation, or freezing, of eggs, sperm and embryos. Now, amid the chaos and destruction of war, the sensitive equipment and facilities currently storing hundreds of thousands of embryos and oocytes are at risk.

Commercial surrogacy is legal in Ukraine only for heterosexual married couples who have been unable to conceive naturally or through IVF, but its relatively low cost—$40,000 to $60,000 compared to $120,000 or more in the United States, according to Euronews Next—has made Ukraine a popular destination for would-be parents from all over the world. With some 50 reproductive clinics and numerous surrogacy and third-party matching agencies, more than 2,000 babies are born to surrogates in Ukraine every year, the BBC reports, most from foreign parents.

In addition to the responsibility of protecting hundreds of surrogates and babies, reproductive health clinics and surrogacy agencies also store thousands of eggs, sperm samples and embryos for clients’ intended future use. Some in the Ukraine surrogacy industry estimate as many as 3,000 foreign couples have frozen embryos stored in the embattled country.

Just as heroes are helping to evacuate and care for surrogates and babies, others are working desperately to preserve embryos and oocytes that may be their owners’ only and final chance to reproduce. Before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Dr. Valery Zukin directed some 500 staff members and 50 to 60 doctors at his Kyiv reproductive clinic, which facilitated some 1,000 individual IVF cycles per year, as reported by Today. Since the Russian invasion, most of the staff have joined the 10 million Ukrainians who have left the country or been internally displaced. Zukin remained, almost solely responsible for the safekeeping of the 19,000 frozen embryos housed at his clinic.

At the time of the Today report, Zukin had successfully transferred 1,000 embryos to safety in western Ukraine and other countries, basing the agonizing decision of which to send on freshness and on which clients would be able to continue treatment elsewhere.

In the meantime, he struggles with inevitable wartime shortages and disruptions, including a shortage of the liquid nitrogen that much be replenished weekly to keep the embryos frozen and viable, which he is purchasing out of his own pocket.

War Ends Ukraine’s Role as Surrogacy Destination

As hard as these stories are to hear, they left have left me proud and in awe of the amazing resilience and determination exhibited by so many surrogates, intended parents and reproductive health professionals in the face of unimaginable hardship and terror. Our profession has just come through an immense crisis in the form of a deadly global pandemic. As we wrote last year, the fertility services profession endured and came through that crisis stronger, safer and more effective than ever. The pandemic even changed the practice of fertility law, requiring intended parents, surrogates and their legal counsel to consider and document their expectations and intentions around COVID vaccination and other protective measures.

The war in Ukraine has changed the assisted reproduction profession as well. It will likely be a long time before Ukraine is again viewed as a safe place for surrogacy. For months leading up the war, most Ukraine surrogacy agencies and clinics downplayed the likelihood that Russia would invade. For that reason, few contingency plans were in place, and most clients never imagined their path to parenthood would lead to a war zone.

But intended parents are on the alert now. Some agencies report that would-be parents considering surrogacy in other European countries are beginning to ask for guarantees that Russian aggression won’t also interrupt their family creation plans.

The demand that made Ukraine a popular destination for international surrogacy won’t disappear. Experience tells us that would-be parents struggling with infertility living in countries where surrogacy and other forms of assisted reproduction are banned or severely restricted will find a way.

The war in Ukraine will inevitably change the “map” for international surrogacy. Georgia, where surrogacy is legal for married, heterosexual couples, is one alternative expected to see an increase in surrogacy births, as is Greece, where commercial surrogacy was legalized in 2002 and opened to foreign intended parents—as long as they are heterosexual couples or single women using their own genetics—in 2014. Sadly, LGBTQ intended parents need not apply. Both countries consider the biological parents, rather than the surrogate, to be the baby’s legal guardians. Other countries such as Cyprus, Albania, and Columbia where there are no laws governing surrogacy, also are expected to see more inquiries from intended parents.

This shifting of international surrogacy “hotspots” is not a new thing. We’ve reported several times on the dilemma of pregnant surrogates, stranded babies and desperate parents as  former surrogacy hotspots such as India, Cambodia, Mexico and Thailand have been abruptly shut down due to government response to malfeasance or scandalous headlines. As I wrote before, the relatively high cost of surrogacy in the U.S. drives many intended parents to seek cheaper alternatives. Too often the tradeoff is questionable medical or ethical practices, lower success rates and unstable legal and government structures to protect families. Tragically, the extreme danger and uncertainty facing surrogates and intended parents in Ukraine today provides us with yet another cautionary tale.

For more information about surrogacy in wartime Ukraine, see our February article, including advice for surrogates and intended parents navigating the ongoing crisis.  

Richard Vaughn
rich@iflg.net

Attorney Rich Vaughn is founder and principal of International Fertility Law Group, one of the world’s largest and best-known law firms focused exclusively on assisted reproductive technology, or ART, including in vitro fertilization (IVF), surrogacy, sperm donation or egg donation. Rich is co-author of the book “Developing A Successful Assisted Reproduction Technology Law Practice,” American Bar Association Publishing, 2017.

Peiya Wang
PEIYA WANG(王培娅)
Paralegal (律师助理)

Peiya Wang joined IFLG as a paralegal in 2015, where she manages surrogacy, egg donation and parental establishment cases and provides translation services for many of IFLG’s international clients. Peiya moved to the United States in 2012 to attend Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, receiving a Master of Science degree in Global Studies and International Affairs in 2014. Peiya moved to Los Angeles in 2015, received her paralegal certification from UCLA Extension, and obtained her second Master of Science degree in Legal Studies from Loyola Law School. Peiya relocated back to her hometown, Beijing, China in 2019 and works from IFLG’s Beijing office. When away from the office, Peiya is a dragon boat paddler and a ballroom dancer, where she favors Rumbas and Cha-chas. She is fluent in Mandarin and English.

Katie Deaquino
KATIE DEAQUINO
Senior Paralegal

Katie is a Senior Paralegal with IFLG and has dedicated over sixteen years to the areas of surrogacy and reproductive law. She received her Paralegal Certificate from Coastline Community College and has worked with some of the top law firms in the assisted reproduction community. Katie is also a commissioned Notary Public. With IFLG, Katie manages Surrogacy, Egg Donation, and Parental Establishment cases and provides support to other IFLG team members. Katie truly enjoys helping others build their families through assisted reproduction and is thankful she has had the rewarding experience of assisting IFLG clients. Katie often spends her free time with her Husband, four young children and her bulldog “Bella”.

Luis Sosa
LUIS SOSA
Paralegal

Luis R. Sosa joined IFLG as a paralegal in 2016, where he enjoys pursuing his passion for family and reproductive law. While working toward his bachelor’s degree at Florida International University which he received in 2013, Luis worked as a paralegal and legal assistant for family law litigation firms in Miami and Washington, D.C. As a paralegal and case manager for IFLG, Luis, who is bilingual in English and Spanish, manages surrogacy, egg donation and other reproductive law cases. Luis has worked for IFLG in both Los Angeles as well as San Francisco, and is currently based in Dallas, Texas. In addition to spending time with husband Randy and dog Marty, Luis enjoys being outdoors and appreciating the arts.

Alexander Espinoza
ALEXANDER ESPINOZA
Legal Assistant

Alexander joined IFLG as a legal assistant in 2019, where he manages surrogacy, egg donation and parental establishment cases. Alex is bilingual in English and Spanish and has been in the legal field for 23 years. Alex is excited to join the IFLG team and pursuing his will to help others in the reproductive law process. In his spare time he loves spending time with his family and friends, being outdoors, road trips, loves music and dancing.

Toni Hughes
TONI BOONE
Paralegal

After receiving her B.S. in Business Management, Toni joined IFLG to pursue her dream of working in the legal field. As a Paralegal with over 10 years of experience in the assisted reproduction technology field, Toni is our Managing Paralegal, responsible for training and managing our paralegal staff. From drafting legal documents to assisting our clients with post-birth matters, Toni embraces the challenge of learning something new in this field each day. Besides spending time with her son, Jordan, Toni enjoys exploring new things, cooking, spending time with family and friends, and serving as a Youth Advisor for “Next Generation.”

KIM DEVEREAUX
Paralegal

Kim has over 30 years of experience in the legal field and has worked exclusively in surrogacy and assisted reproduction law since 1999. Kim is a senior case manager responsible for managing parental establishment cases and interacting with IFLG’s Of Counsel attorneys across the country. With three children of her own, Kim understands the importance of family and finds working in this area of law a rewarding experience.

Rich Vaughn
RICHARD B. VAUGHN
Founder

Attorney Rich Vaughn combined his personal passion as a father of twin boys born via assisted reproductive technology (ART) with more than 20 years of experience in business and technology law to build International Fertility Law Group. Today IFLG is one of the most successful and best-known law firms in the world focused exclusively on fertility law, helping thousands of intended parents through empathetic listening, compassionate guidance, and unmatched legal expertise. As an advocate for reproductive freedom, Rich also contributes his knowledge and time to improving the understanding and practice of ART law, most recently as a founder of and speaker at the first Cambridge University International Surrogacy Symposium held in June 2019, as immediate past chair of the American Bar Association ART Committee, and as a popular presenter to law schools, faculty and advocacy organizations all over the world.

Elizabeth Tamayo
ELIZABETH TAMAYO
Paralegal

Elizabeth received her Bachelors of Science degree in Criminal Justice from California State University of Los Angeles. Shortly after graduating, she continued her education at the University of California, Los Angeles where she obtained her Paralegal certificate. Elizabeth is fluent in Spanish and has been in the legal field since 2009. She is excited to be a part of the IFLG Team helping families realize their dreams.

Sunny Chien
SUNNY CHIEN
Paralegal

Sunny joined IFLG as a paralegal in 2017, where she manages surrogacy, egg donation and parental establishment cases for many of IFLG’s international clients. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy from California State University of Los Angeles, where she graduated cum laude. Sunny is bilingual in English and Mandarin and has extensive experience as a legal assistant and paralegal at Los Angeles-area law firms. She is excited to be part of the IFLG team. In her spare time, Sunny enjoys spending time with her family and their dog, going to the beach, cooking, and being outdoors.

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Molly O'Brien
MOLLY O'BRIEN
Partner

Fertility law attorney Molly O’Brien began working in the field of assisted reproduction technology (ART) in 2005, at an egg donation agency and a surrogacy agency where she became familiar with all aspects of in-vitro fertilization, egg donation and the financial aspects of surrogacy. Since becoming an attorney in 2011, Molly has drafted and negotiated surrogacy, egg donation, sperm donation embryo donation agreements for hundreds of her clients all over the world.

Phoebe Sadler
PHOEBE S. SADLER
Associate

Fertility law attorney Phoebe Sadler has a background in family law and has been practicing exclusively in the area of assisted reproduction technology (ART) law since 2018.

Rubina Aslanyan
RUBINA ASLANYAN
Paralegal

Rubina has an extensive background in the legal field as a paralegal in Family Law and has worked in surrogacy and assisted reproduction law since 2012. Her area of focus is in managing and assisting clients with surrogacy, egg donation, and parental establishment cases for many of IFLG’s domestic and international clients. During her spare time, Rubina enjoys spending time with her family and dog Bella, traveling and cooking.

Cara Stecker
CARA STECKER
Senior Paralegal

After receiving her paralegal certificate in 2005, Cara began working in assisted reproductive law. During the fifteen years Cara has worked in this field, she has gained a wide range of experience and knowledge that she uses to help better assist clients and those involved in the assisted reproductive journey. Cara’s primary roles involve managing parental establishment matters and coordination with IFLG’s Of Counsel attorney network, drafting contracts and parental establishment court documents and providing support to other team members. Cara finds great joy in being a small part of a team of caring people who help others achieve their dream of having a family. In her spare time, Cara enjoys spending time with her husband and three children, watching her children play the sports they love, and she enjoys, running, cycling and exploring the outdoors in the sun.

Stephanie Kimble
STEPHANIE KIMBLE
Paralegal

Stephanie received her BS in History and Political Thought from Concordia University Irvine in 2015 and her Paralegal Certificate from University of San Diego later that same year. She has been working as a Paralegal since 2016 in Family and Reproductive Law. She is excited to be part of International Fertility Law Group working on managing Surrogacy, Egg donation and Parental Establishment Cases.

Trish Pittman
TRISH PITTMAN
Assistant Financial Coordinator

With more than 20 years of experience in the field of accounting, Trish joined the IFLG team in 2019 as Assistant Financial Coordinator. Her client-facing focus at IFLG is to assist with all client trust accounting. Trish is the mother of two daughters and enjoys spending time teaching and learning new things from them. In her free time, she loves long walks in the park and reading suspense and mystery novels.

Elsa Jimenez
ELSA JIMENEZ
Legal Assistant

Elsa joined IFLG as a Legal Assistant in 2019, bringing more than 35 years of experience working in the legal profession (concentrating in tort and litigation matters). At IFLG she assists surrogates with their surrogacy and parental matters. The oldest of five siblings, born and raised in East Los Angeles to Mexican immigrant parents, Elsa loves “seeing the beauty of families forming” through assisted reproductive technology. She and her husband Carlos have four children and one grandson. Elsa enjoys jazz and ’80s music, being outdoors in nature, collecting teacups and tea pots, and spending time with her close-knit family.