The Surrogacy State

The Envelope, Please: DNA And Surrogacy

By Kristian Foden-Vencil (OPB)
Portland, Oregon April 20, 2016 7:30 p.m.

Oregon has become something of an international center for surrogacy. In this five-part series, OPB's Kristian Foden-Vencil explores why this is the case, especially for gay Israeli couples.

Light micrograph of a successfully fertilized oocyte after an in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedure.

Light micrograph of a successfully fertilized oocyte after an in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedure.

Wellcome Photo Library, Wellcome Images

Guy and his husband, who are from Israel, were married in New York in 2015. They’re gay, so they’re not allowed to wed in Israel.

They also wanted kids with their own genetic makeup. But just as gay couples not allowed to marry in Israel, and they’re also not allowed to use an Israeli surrogate to have a baby.

“So far we can’t do it in Israel, so Portland became the Mecca for surrogacy, so we went to there, and we were introduced by an agency to a very, very kind surrogate who we just love," Guy said. "We love her family, and she has kids of her own, of course, and we love her husband.”

Guy's twins have just been born — one child carries the genes of Guy; the other carries the genes of his husband, and the couple is here in to Oregon to pick up the babies then fly them back to Israel.

Since the children will be born in the United States, they’ll have U.S. passports, and they’ll be allowed into Israel via tourist visas. But then there will be a judicial hearing so the twins can secure Israeli citizenship. And in that hearing, they’ll have to prove the fathers are genetically related to the children. Guy doesn’t want to give his full name because his children are involved.

It's the hearing where the problems start: those DNA tests show conclusively which child is related to which father.

“I do have some thoughts about well, if I treat one better, so maybe this is because, you know et cetera, et cetera, et cetera,” Guy said. He’s worried about family dynamics, especially as the children get older.

“Maybe the kids will have their own fears, about, ‘Are you mad at me because you’re not my real father?’ And so on,” he said.


Anyone who’s brought up teenagers might imagine such a conversation.

Guy is also concerned about what could happen between other family members if he and his husband were to die unexpectedly.

“Maybe someone will try, ‘OK, I can take only one grandson. I don’t have enough room for two,” he said.

They’re amorphous fears, the kind many new parents have. But Guy says it’s not that they never want to know which child has which father’s genes. They just want the information to be put in an envelope so they can open it at a future date when they’re ready.

“So at least for the first years, I’d be very happy not to know. It always raises questions; people always try to know. You know, people are always curious about it. And we’re already trying to see differences, even in the ultrasound. ‘Yeah, this one is looking exactly like your brother. And she’s looking like my sister.’ But we don’t want to know and if we can, it’d be great,” Guy said.

Gay families going through surrogacy often prefer to try for twins. At a cost of $120,000 per pregnancy, that makes better financial sense.

Victoria Gelfand, a surrogacy attorney in Tel Aviv, has asked the Israeli Attorney General to seal the family’s genetic information. She says the fact that Oregon allows both intended parents to be listed on the birth certificate — even though they’re both male — was key to allowing the request.

“In Portland you can play with the process and you can vary the legal procedure to match your circumstances. And the best results fitting your needs,” Gelfand said.

Israeli law requires a DNA test to prove parents are indeed related to the child they’re submitting for citizenship. Israel’s Attorney General is expected to rule on Guy’s request imminently. If he blocks the idea, Guy says they’ll move forward with a lawsuit.

Read More: Oregon, The Surrogacy State

Part I: Checkup: An Oregon Surrogate's Story
Part II: The 11th Commandment: Thou Shalt Have Children
Part III: Fertile Ground: Why Oregon Is The Surrogacy State
Part IV: Religion And State: Oregon Born, Israel Bound
Part V: DNA And Surrogacy: The Envelope, Please