Baby dilemma: couples are turning to their superannuation savings to fund surrogacy

Katie Murphy and her partner desperately want a child of their own.
Katie Murphy and her partner desperately want a child of their own. 

Katie Murphy and her partner Fergus always said that they wanted to have a family together.

They just didn't know that they would need to wipe out Katie's superannuation to pay for it.

It took four months of paper work, including psychiatric reports, for the Victorian couple to access $56,000 of Katie's industry superannuation on compassionate grounds to pay a surrogate to carry their child.

Katie Murphy and Fergus McDougall have accessed super funds to help pay for surrogacy.
Katie Murphy and Fergus McDougall have accessed super funds to help pay for surrogacy. 

The couple has already spent $40,000 creating the four embryos which were transferred to their Cairns surrogate on October 7. Katie estimates it will take a further $10,000 to cover the costs.

October 21 is the big day they find out if the transfer was successful.

It's a one-shot chance for the couple. "We couldn't afford to do a sibling program. It would just bankrupt us completely." 

Katie, 46, has three children, aged, 27, 24 and 16 by her former husband, but severe endometriosis at age 35 led to a hysterectomy and ended her chances of carrying another child.

Now, 11 years later, Katie and Fergus are desperate for a child of their own. "We considered adoption, but we said no, we want our own genetic material, so we looked into surrogacy."

Altruistic surrogates are not easy to find. Just 42 babies were born from altruistic surrogacy in Australia last year, according to Families through Surrogacy.

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While Katie believes she may be the first in her surrogacy support group to access her super, desperate couples are maxing out credit cards, redrawing home loans, and selling whatever they can to pay for the procedure.  "We've had people who have put mortgages on their mum's houses."

In Australia, the surrogacy debate has mostly focused on the legal and moral implications, particularly for those seeking surrogacy overseas.

Surrogacy Matters, the report of the federal parliamentary inquiry into surrogacy, tabled in April this year, makes no reference to the financial costs, other than suggesting that providing "appropriate reimbursement for altruistic surrogates is a reasonable proposition".

When the rosy stories of celebrity surrogacy began to be replaced by horror stories about paedophiles, legal dilemmas and babies being used as bargaining chips, it was easy to assume that countries that only allow altruistic surrogacy were somehow protecting their citizens.

Even the word "altruistic" implies a moral stance. But for infertile couples like Katie and Fergus, the view from the high moral ground is a mountain of debt.

Commercial surrogacy is banned in Australia so Katie's surrogate won't receive compensation (typically $25,000 to $40,000 in the US). But costs can still range from $50,000-80,000 – more if you need donor sperm or eggs.

The most recent estimate for the cost of raising a child in Australia of $812,000 for two children to the age of 21 does not include buying genetic material or hiring a surrogate to carry the child – the reality for many infertile couples.

But commercialising surrogacy may not be the answer. In the US, where surrogacy is big business and can cost from $100,000 to $180,000, surrogacy agency websites are typically linked with finance companies.

Circle Surrogacy and Growing Generations, two of the biggest agencies, both offer instant online approval for loans under $35,000, with loans available for up to $100,000 at 5.99 per cent interest through Prosper Healthcare Lending – no collateral required.  Capex MD also offers "fertility financing", with "pre-approval within 24 hours".

Other websites advise intended parents to cut costs by avoiding agencies all together, selling their own healthy eggs or using a traditional surrogate to avoid paying for eggs and transfers.

What is not mentioned is that there is a chance that some will end up with a debt rather than a baby, as there is no guarantee that the procedures will work.

IVF in Australia is more affordable due to Medicare rebates, although IVF pioneer Alan Trounson recently slammed providers for charging "what the market will handle". But there are no rebates for those using IVF for surrogacy, making it 300 per cent more expensive, according to Surrogacy Australia.

Families through Surrogacy and Surrogacy Australia continue to lobby for this to be reversed, but in an ageing society with burgeoning public health costs this is unlikely and may be seen as indulgence rather than necessity.

Most IVF providers in Australia now advertise accessing superannuation as a payment option through SuperCare Australia, which helps clients access their super for various medical needs.

Genea, formerly Sydney IVF, has a direct link to MacCredit on its website, which takes clients straight to an application form.  MacCredit provides "flexible payment plans" for cosmetic, medical and dental procedures, including IVF, with loans from $4000 at interest rates determined by the client's credit profile.

How will this indebtedness affect families already emotionally and financially depleted by endless rounds of IVF? Will the mantra of "You were so wanted" become "You were so expensive?"

Regardless of the moral and legal issues around surrogacy, it is startlingly clear that there is financial vulnerability on both sides.

Jane Cafarella is an Australian journalist and playwright living in Singapore. Her play e-baby opens at The Ensemble Theatre in Sydney on October 19.