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Traditional vs Genetic Surrogacy

Posted on November 21, 2016

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Quick!  What is the difference between traditional and genetic surrogacy?

Yes, that was a trick question, because there is no difference.  In fact, genetic surrogacy is simply a modern term for traditional surrogacy.  We use this term to differentiate between the long-standing traditional form of surrogacy and modern variants made possibly by the constant technological advances of science, such as egg donor surrogacy and gestational surrogacy, both involving egg extraction and in vitro fertilization.

Traditional surrogacy has been practiced for thousands of years.  In olden days, when a woman was believed to be infertile, one of the ways a couple would get around this problem and create a baby to raise as their own, was to find a woman who would agree to bear their child for them and hand the child over when it was born.

The surrogate mother would typically be an unmarried woman, and based on the age of marriage in those days, “woman” would be correct only on a technicality.  Often the woman would be a younger sister or a cousin.  These were traditionally “gift surrogacies”, a term we use today when money does not change hands and contracts are not invoked.

The intended father and the woman would engage in sexual intercourse, transferring sperm the way it has been done since mankind first walked the face of the earth – the tried-and-true form of low tech insemination still in use today for most pregnancies.  This no doubt brought both the intended father and the woman a great deal of pleasure, and in many cases brought both of them and the intended mother a wagon-load of mixed emotions and sometimes familial conflict, as well.

Today’s “traditional” surrogacies are a little less traditional, in that the intercourse has been removed from the equation in favor of more sanitary and less familiar methods of extracting the sperm from the intended father and transferring it into the surrogate mother.

While we still use the term “traditional” in respect to the fact that this approach has been around so long, the more accurate label we now use is genetic surrogacy.  Why “genetic”?  Because the surrogate mother contributes her own genetic material to the new child she is raising.  The intended father fertilizes her egg, so it is her genes getting passed on to the baby.

This is not the case when the intended mother’s egg is used, which we call gestational surrogacy (because the surrogate mother contributes only the gestation, not the egg).

This is also not the case when another woman’s egg is used, which we call an egg donor surrogacy (because a third party egg donor provides the female genetic material).

Only in the traditional form of surrogacy does the surrogate mother provide her own genetic material, so we call it genetic surrogacy to correctly label it for what it does.  Would the hopeful parents of yesteryear be surprised to see how far we have come since then with their traditional surrogacy!

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