Irish families hoping to have a baby through surrogacy abroad are still using services in Ukraine, despite the ongoing war, a clinic in Kyiv has said.
It comes after the Government issued a strong warning to couples planning to use a surrogate mother in Ukraine not to travel to the war-torn country. In a statement to the, a spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs said the advice is not to travel to there.
“The department is aware of and concerned about a number of citizens who continue to enter Ukraine for the purpose of engaging in surrogacy arrangements. The situation across Ukraine remains extremely dangerous and the Department strongly advises against entering into surrogacy arrangements in Ukraine."
However, when contacted one clinic — IVMED Family in Kyiv — confirmed that Irish families are still using its service, despite Russia’s year-long invasion.
A spokesperson said: “Yes, that’s right, the situation is stable now in the centre and west regions of the country. So, in the case of something we have plan B to move our surrogate to Lviv or to the west. Sometimes even abroad.
“We stopped for a short time when the war began, but we are back in the business again. We have contingency plans in place, and we work with Irish families right now.
In recent weeks, Russia has continued to attack the critical infrastructure of several cities across Ukraine, including Kyiv, with missile and drone barrages. IVMED told thethe latest attacks have not halted its work.
The spokesperson said: “Usually we have alarms because of the training flights of military planes by Belarus or drones. In 2022, we kept patient programmes and moved all our surrogates to the west and continued the programmes there.
"There were low patients from Ireland since the Government didn’t recommend going to Ukraine. Even now, the Government doesn’t recommend it. Our patients just choose continuing surrogate pregnancy in Lviv with their further delivery and taking the baby there.
"It’s really close to Poland, so it is safe there. But some also choose Kyiv as its close to our clinic and the capital is well protected.
"Of course, it is up to the parents to choose according to the surrogate’s wish and recommendations by the doctor. The numbers [of Irish families] were low in 2022 but if we are speaking about now, there is a good number of the Irish couples as the situation became stable.”
The Department of Foreign Affairs has said there are no official figures of how many families are travelling abroad for surrogacies. There is also no regulatory authority established in Ireland yet to track numbers.
Fine Gael senator Mary Seery Kearney, who has campaigned for legislation in this area, said that despite the advice not to travel "there are 24 babies due here from Ukraine between now and the summer".
The Government has said it will be “restricted” in the supports it can provide to people wishing to travel to Ukraine to bring home their surrogate babies. “The capacity of the department to provide consular assistance to citizens in Ukraine is extremely limited.”
The department said the advice not to travel is being reviewed regularly, following a detailed letter sent to the Irish Families Through Surrogacy group cautioning prospective parents last year.
That correspondence, sent on November 20, 2022, said: “Since February 12, the department’s travel advice has advised against all travel to Ukraine, for any purpose. The travel advice also states that the department strongly advises against commissioning surrogacy arrangement in Ukraine.
"The situation remains extremely dangerous across all of Ukraine, including Kyiv and western regions, with missile attacks continuing countywide.
In its letter, the Department of Foreign Affairs said it is aware that surrogacies were continuing between Ireland and Ukraine. It said “it is matter of deepest concern” that it had become “aware of a number of new arrangements having been commenced”.
The letter continued: “The Department would therefore discourage in the strongest terms any individual from pursuing surrogacy arrangements in Ukraine.
“I would request that you would bring this to the attention of any client as appropriate so that they be made aware of the considerable risks and the very significant limitations on this Department's support."
The department also outlined the dangers facing pregnant women in the country saying: “Deteriorating conditions have led to reports of poor nutritional conditions among pregnant women, of some births in primitive conditions in shelters, and of increased levels of miscarriages and premature births.
It is understood that a number of surrogate mothers did not receive appropriate care from some clinics in Ukraine while pregnant when the war began and Irish families who were liaising with the services were left in limbo.
A number of families here hoping to start a surrogate journey have now switched to other countries. A spokesperson for the campaign group Irish Families Through Surrogacy told themost families are “pursuing surrogacy in Georgia and Canada”.
It comes as surrogacy legislation is still going through the Oireachtas.
“We have almost 300 private members who have either undertaken surrogacy or who are currently pursuing it.
“Surrogacy legislation is still being worked on in the Oireachtas given that the woman who gives birth to a child is legally viewed as the mother and not the person who will raise the child even if it is her own embryo.”
Irish Families Through Surrogacy highlighted the challenges faced by hopeful parents, saying families that had “stood outside the gates of Government buildings with Minister Stephen Donnelly with his colleagues Minister Roderic O’Gorman and Minister Heather Humphries as he announced that historic surrogacy legislation was finally on the way to protect Irish families across Ireland”.
“It truly was a Christmas miracle for our members,” it said. “Unfortunately, since that date, we have been unable to secure a timeline of when this legislation will be progressed through the Dáil. It is now time for delivery.
“Currently, it seems it is the Government’s plan to wait for the Assisted Human Reproduction Regulatory Authority to be established to deal with retrospective cases.
“This could take years and can only begin after legislation is passed. It is our belief that retrospective declaration of parentage for children who are here could swiftly be addressed without the need for the Assisted Human Reproduction Regulatory Authority.
Fine Gael senator Mary Seery Kearney has said: “There are families in emergency situations that require urgent action and simply do not have the luxury of time. We really need to get this legislation enacted and I am hopeful of that this year, it would be very helpful to families."
Regarding travelling to Ukraine, Senator Kearney told the: “There would have been parts of Ukraine where people are living normal lives, but it’s very dangerous, no matter what. You might be safe in the country where a surrogate mother is being cared for by her family, but for them to attend a clinic in Kyiv, that’s dangerous.
“To travel to Ukraine for surrogacy, you are flying into places like Kyiv and the city is a potential target. For families who embark on this journey prior to going, they are being warned not to go ahead with their journey, that’s the official advice from Government.
“When I have a conversation with families, I do emphasise that all the time. If surrogates are living in a safe area, they are independent, they have their own care and advice and counselling advice, before they proceed down this route.
“It is a very serious situation, and the Government advice right now is not to travel. I do, however, sympathise with people who are anxious about having a baby." The Ukrainian embassy in Dublin did not respond to therequest for comment.
One family who went through the surrogacy process in Ukraine has described the birth of their only son Christopher as “a miracle”.
Lauragh Goggin and her husband Oisín from Co. Wexford began dating in 2007 and married nine years later. However, Lauragh, 36 who has Type 1 Diabetes was facing several medical challenges if she was to fall pregnant.
Following lengthy medical tests and advice, the couple believed the risks of carrying a baby were “too extreme”.
Lauragh said: “When we made the decision not to go ahead with a pregnancy of our own, we were left feeling so devastated, but then my husband produced some information on surrogacy and told me he had been doing research and this could be a good idea for us”.
The couple attended a seminar before organising a clinic and agency in Ukraine to help them on their surrogacy journey. Several Irish families have chosen Ukraine as a destination for a baby born by surrogacy because of the legislation there.
The country recognises the intended parents (IP) as the legal mother and father on the child’s birth certificate, rather than the surrogate mother. In Ireland, the law recognises the biological father and the woman who gives birth to the child as the legal parents.
In Ukraine, the nationality of the child remains stateless until the baby is legally claimed by the intended parents. Lauragh said: “Christopher is an Irish boy born in Ukraine on his birth cert, we are his birth parents.”
In December 2019, the Goggins flew to Ukraine to leave genetic material at their clinic for the process to begin. “We chose the World Centre of Baby in Kyiv and engaged Annette Hickey the Surrogacy solicitor here.
“You can’t engage a biological mother in Ukraine either, it is a gestational surrogate where the embryo is transferred to her.” The couple’s surrogacy journey did not go without its difficulties however, and on their third surrogate, they finally were pregnant.
“Lauragh said: “You really have to be prepared for every scenario as it just doesn’t work because you have a healthy surrogate who is medically ready. And when our surrogate did have a positive pregnancy test, you still have to have the blood tests.
“Waiting for that was unreal. But once it was confirmed we just couldn’t believe it. It was so exciting. But even then, anything can happen. You are involved in all of the appointments, and you receive a scan every month and then you go over for the birth”.
When baby Christopher arrived in to the world in October 2021, Lauragh was in the hospital with the surrogate mother — who remains part of their family to this day.
She said: “I saw my son being born and he was handed straight to me. I still can't believe he's ours.” Christopher is now 17 months and the couple say they hope to go back to Ukraine in the future for a sibling.
Lauragh said: “The clinics are open and the advice from government is not to travel, but surrogacies are continuing, and we have been there, and we have had a good experience. The clinics are open now and up and running after they were stopped because of the war.
“For Christopher’s sake and continuity and the fact we have embryos in a clinic in Ukraine it only makes sense for us to return there, should we decide to try again.
“I can apply for guardianship after two years, but I am not recognised as Christopher's mother in Ireland. My mother died, and Christopher was a legal stranger to her, so that means he would have been taxed if she left him anything.
"All I can hope for now is guardianship and a change in the law to retrospectively make me his legal mother. The Adoption Authority of Ireland say I can't adopt him either because of the laws”.