The History of Surrogacy

Surrogate births or surrogacy is widely believed to have existed since the Babylonian times. However, the more credible records indicate attaining legal compliance and public acknowledgment during the middle of the 20th century.

First Surrogacy Agreement

Surrogacy was first made public in the US during the late 1970's. In 1976, an attorney, Noel Keane, brokered the first-ever surrogacy arrangement. This surrogacy didn’t involve a financial compensation—called traditional surrogacy. Later, Noel Keane formed a professional association with Dr. Warren Ringold. Together, they set-up the first surrogacy clinic, called Infertility Center, to carry-out artificial inseminations.

Uncertainty and Struggle

Noel Keane’s efforts faced resistance from the policy-makers in the state of Michigan. Keane had to constantly struggle for his cause, being perennially engaged in lawsuits. Keane’s clinic did have a fair bit of clients during 1980-81. However, surrogacy was still regarded as a social stigma and unethical by most people at this time. Documentaries made on the Keane-Ringold partnership often indicate that the early clients at the clinic were very apprehensive, most fearing public ridicule.

First Paid Surrogacy

Elizabeth Kane was the pseudonym (alias) used for the first woman who agreed to be a surrogate mother for financial compensation—called commercial surrogacy. In 1980, Elizabeth Kane agreed to a surrogacy arrangement for $10,000. However, Ms Kane was reluctant to part with her child, which led to many legal complications. However, she was denied custody of the child due to the signed, contractual arrangement.

Surrogacy and the ‘Baby M’ Controversy

The ‘Baby M’ case is widely regarded as the most infamous incident in the history of surrogacy. In 1986, a surrogacy arrangement was signed between Mary Beth Whitehead (surrogate mother) and the Stern family. The child conceived from this arrangement is still famously referred to as ‘Baby M’. The surrogate baby’s actual name was Melissa Stern. Mary Whitehead too refused to part with the baby, leading to a two-year long court battle. However, she was only awarded visitation rights by the court of law.

Despite the early hiccups, surrogacy has become one of the mainstream options for childless couples across the world.