Israel Criticized For Leaving Pregnant Surrogates In Nepal
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
One of the more unexpected rescues from the Nepal earthquake is the evacuation of 26 newborn babies to Israel. Parents of these babies are mostly gay men, Israelis. The newborns were carried and delivered by surrogate mothers in Nepal. And Israel's decision to airlift the babies but leave the mothers behind has caused some controversy. Debra Kamin is an Israeli journalist in Tel Aviv, reporting this story for Time magazine.
DEBRA KAMIN: The reason behind this whole situation is that surrogacy in Israel is limited only to married heterosexual couples. So either single parents or gay parents and couples who want to have a biological child often use surrogates. And Nepal in the past few years has become one of the most popular destinations for Israelis to go looking for surrogates mainly because of the cost. It's very cheap in Nepal compared to other countries.
MONTAGNE: OK, so these babies arrive in Israel, and immediately questions start arising. Although I wonder what the coverage has been. Did it start out as a joyous moment?
KAMIN: You know, the coverage started before they were able to get here. When the Israeli public and the journalists realized that in addition to the many Israeli tourists and truckers who were in Nepal - because Nepal is a very popular destination for Israelis post-army to go on these long tours where they hike around and they climb Everest, when they also found out there were 26 Israeli babies, obviously this is a huge human interest story here. But of course, there's still many women in Nepal who are still pregnant and the many of them are in the late stages of their pregnancy with more surrogate babies. And it's become a question what to do with the women who are pregnant with babies who haven't been born yet.
MONTAGNE: Also to make this more complicated, India has a role in this. Some of these women are actually Indian who have come to Nepal to give birth. What exactly is that about?
KAMIN: Actually, the majority of the women are Indian. The reason is that for many years, India was the primary site for Israeli surrogacy, not Nepal. India generally has a high standard of health care but low prices, which made it very attractive for Israel. It's also a very strong ally of Israel. But at the end of 2012 and the beginning of 2013, India also changed their law and they restricted surrogacy in their country to only married couples. When the law changed, a lot of Israeli couples were midway through the surrogacy process, so the Indian women who were carrying children for them actually just went into Nepal. Indian women do not need any special papers to cross to Nepal, and they gave birth there.
MONTAGNE: What is the thinking now then, in the face of this on the part of the government, both for the surrogate mothers of babies already born and also the hundred or so women who are still carrying babies fathered by Israelis?
KAMIN: Like all good stories in Israel, it is a very fierce debate with very passionate views on both sides. A lot of people in the government are saying they should get these women out. And the attorney general and the interior minister made statements that they are doing what they can to move the bureaucratic process forward, to get travel papers to move these women. But whether they actually will or whether they mean that or it's just lip service, that's not clear at this moment.
MONTAGNE: You know, what impact might this possibly have on this whole system whereby would-be single parents or gay parents would go to Nepal to have surrogates deliver their children there?
KAMIN: It actually may have a major impact because another side effect of this situation has - it's kick-started another debate in Israel about the law for surrogacy. Why is it that only heterosexual married couples are allowed to employ surrogates? Surrogacy, like many things in Israel, including marriage and funeral rites, is controlled by the rabbinical courts. So even though Israel is a democracy, the Jewish rabbinical courts control parts of the life process. And a lot of people are saying because of this situation, because this law and people are excluded, it's forced couples to look elsewhere and created a system that's not entirely ethical. Is it really right that we have people going across the world to women who are impoverished and paying them to carry their children? So there is a debate now that's starting about possibly changing the law as a result of this crisis to prevent something like this happening again.
MONTAGNE: Thank you very much.
KAMIN: My pleasure. Thank you.
MONTAGNE: That's Debra Kamin speaking to us from Tel Aviv, where she's been reporting this story for Time. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.