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13 Feb, 2010 05:58

Paternity beyond the grave: a grandma's quest

A Moscow woman is attempting to continue the legacy of her dead son by producing grandchildren he will never see. But Russia’s surrogacy law, known as most liberal in Europe, is placing obstacles in the way.

Natalya Klimova’s home is filled with the memory of the son she lost.

“After suffering horribly, he died in my arms on October 27, 2009,” recalls Natalya.

Artyom was 19 when he died of Hodgkin’s lymphoma, an aggressive type of cancer.

Before chemotherapy, doctors suggested he freeze some of his sperm, in case the treatment led to infertility. After he died, his mother Natalya knew there was still a chance to continue his genetic legacy.

“The very moment he died in my arms, when his heart stopped, my first thought was ‘Yes, I want a continuation of my son. I want grandchildren.”

She decided to hire a surrogate mother to bear the embryo made from her son’s sperm and a donor’s egg. That was when she entered the murky waters of Russia’s surrogacy laws.

“In my case, there were several problems. I would be setting a precedent as a grandmother raising her grandchildren this way. I insist on being the grandmother, not the mother. Mothers have often used the sperm of their sons to raise their grandchildren. But from the legal point of view they have no right to register them as grandchildren, so they register them as children instead,” Natalya explains.

Experts say Russian surrogacy legislation is not well-codified and typically relies on precedents set by previous cases.

“There is no specific law in Russia on surrogacy. So lawyers simply work with the various articles regulating the registration of such children,” reproductive law expert Konstantin Svitnev says. “The only necessary condition is a written agreement between the client parents and surrogate mother, which of course must be drawn-up by lawyers.”

Among the law’s other obstacles is that children born to surrogate mothers are their legal children until they sign them over to the genetic parents.

“Until the baby is registered, the surrogate mother is considered his or her mother, she can decide to keep the baby or even have an abortion,” Svitnev says. “This is not fair, and needs to be changed.”

Svitnev says legislators are working on a draft law called the “reproductive rights of citizens” to clear up such matters. Hopefully it can do this for Natalya, who has found a donor egg, a surrogate mother – and hope – all in one woman, Anna.

“My decision to become a surrogate mother was incidental, as I had intended to give my ovum. Eventually, after I submitted by application of my ovum, I received a phone call that evening with a proposal that I become a surrogate mother for Natalya,” says surrogate mother Anna.

If the implantation procedure is successful, Anna says she’s fine with the idea of giving up the child to Natalya. Experts say it is common for Russian women to earn about $15000 to become surrogates.

“I will give the child up, because I feel it’s not my child, not my flesh and blood,” Anna says.

Experts say despite the difficulties, Russia’s existing surrogacy legislation is among Europe’s most liberal. They hope with a bit more clarification – through legislation or further precedent – the rights of genetic parents and surrogate mothers will be fully protected.

Aleksandr Ivanov, a lawyer specializing is surrogacy cases, believes that method might become more common than the natural means of conception.

"We have about 20 requests from people seeking a surrogate mother every week, and their number is only rising. And this is just the beginning. Some researchers say that in 20 or 30 years, surrogacy will become the main method of reproduction. Environmental conditions are deteriorating, and science must help those who can't use traditional means,” he said.