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 July 25 , 2003 

Family Law: Newly enforced legislation makes surrogate birth more appealing to the childless

Arshak Zeinalyan wants surrogacy to be properly regulated.

Lusine Mkrtchyan's face fills with joy when she holds her "little kid", six year old Karen, in her arms. After 12 years of marriage without children, the 40 year old woman and her husband decided to have a child via surrogate mother.

Six years ago with the help of another woman a child's cry had finally been heard in the Mkrtchyan family.

"Psychologically those were extremely hard times," says Lusine. "God didn't want us to have children and we didn't want to adopt one. So, by special agreement one woman gave birth to my child from my husband. However, difficulties continued after that."

Lusine says that before the woman was impregnated they agreed with the surrogate mother that they would care for her food and care during her pregnancy and after the child was born, pay her $1,500. The surrogate agreed not to have any rights to the child (however there was no contract).

However, in the whirl of human relations it is not possible to obtain a result only with promises and agreements. Some time later the child's biological mother started to claim meetings and demand money for life.

"We are between two fires," says Lusine. "We don't want society and our son to know about this story, however, hounding continued and we could do nothing about that as we were not protected by legislation. We are giving her money, persuading and even threatening but it's not possible to solve the problem by this means."

The Head of the Department for Maternity and Child Health of the Ministry of Healthcare, Karine Saribekyan, says such cases had arisen in the life of Armenian society long ago as it's almost impossible to imagine an Armenian family without children.

"That's why in order to provide legal solutions for solving this and several other problems improvements of regulations and drafting a law to regulate this field were started years ago," says former Deputy Minister of Healthcare Arshak Zeinalyan, who is one of the creators of the law. "Regulations on rights and competence of surrogate mothers were included for the first time in that law."

For bringing into life the republic's law on Human Reproductive Health and Reproductive Rights discussions were carried out both with specialists of this field and international organizations as well and included specialists from the Ministry of Healthcare and the Ministry of Justice.

"Many opinions were taken into account during discussions of the law's regulations, some opinions were rejected," says Karine Saribekyan. "It was very important for us to have the law like that as human rights connected with reproduction are confirmed by that law."

As the specialist assures, the law on surrogate mothers has long been in force in many countries of the world. In Armenia, special attention had to be given to society's culture and mindset.

While in many countries, artificial insemination is the most common method of surrogate impregnation, it is not the case in Armenia. Here, it commonly means that a couple finds a willing partner, whom the husband impregnates.

Besides being a carrier, the surrogate mother is also a donor of egg cell and carries the child's genotype. And specifically in this case problems arise, which could have not had legal solutions up to now.

Starting last month the Law on Human Reproductive Health and Reproductive Rights has taken effect, aimed at protecting both the parents and the surrogate.

The law stipulates that any 18-35 year-old woman who passes medical and genetic examination may become a surrogate. The law further states that the surrogate "has no right for refusing to pass a child born by her to persons who concluded a contract in accordance with established order of the given law; to a person who uses reproductive supportive technologies or to a married couple".

The law also protects the surrogate from future responsibility for the child. There is also a paragraph in this law that protects the rights of a surrogate mother if she is also a donor of an egg cell.

According to that paragraph, a surrogate who is also an egg donor may break the contract before the child is born, by reimbursing the contracting couple for expenses incurred in the process.

Payments and penalties will also be governed by law.

According to the law, surrogate mother can be paid for pregnancy and giving birth to a child if it is included in the contract a priori. The future parents are legally bound to cover all expenses connected with the term of pregnancy.

In a word, all those details which provide precise regulation of surrogate birth are taken into account in this law.

"Many married couples wished to have children for many years but were not brave enough to choose the variant of surrogate mothers because of the (lack of) legislation," Saribekyan says. "Today they have a possibility to safely create their families and be happy, as a child is a joy in the Armenian family."

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