Having another woman bear a child for a couple to raise, usually with the male half of the couple as the genetic father, is referred to in antiquity. Babylonian law and custom allowed this practice, and an infertile woman could use the practice to avoid a divorce, which would otherwise be inevitable.
Many developments in medicine, social customs, and legal proceedings worldwide paved the way for modern surrogacy:
- 1936 – In the U.S., pharmaceutical companies Schering-Kahlbaum and Parke-Davis started the pharmaceutical production of estrogen.
- 1944 – Harvard Medical School professor John Rock became the first person to fertilize human ova outside the uterus.
- 1953 – Researchers successfully performed the first cryopreservation of sperm.
- 1971 – The first commercial sperm bank opened in New York.
- 1978 – Louise Brown, the first “test-tube baby”, was born in England, the product of the first successful IVF procedure.
- 1980 – Michigan lawyer Noel Keane wrote the first surrogacy contract. He continued his work with surrogacy through his Infertility Center, through which he created the contract leading to the Baby M case.
- 1985 – A woman carried the first successful gestational surrogate pregnancy.
- 1986 – Melissa Stern, otherwise known as “Baby M,” was born in the U.S. The surrogate and biological mother, Mary Beth Whitehead, refused to cede custody of Melissa to the couple with whom she made the surrogacy agreement. The courts of New Jersey found that Whitehead was the child’s legal mother and declared contracts for surrogate motherhood illegal and invalid. However, the court found it in the best interest of the infant to award custody of Melissa to the child’s biological father, William Stern, and his wife Elizabeth Stern, rather than to Whitehead, the surrogate mother.
- 1990 – In California, gestational carrier Anna Johnson refused to give up the baby to intended parents Mark and Crispina Calvert. The couple sued her for custody (Calvert v. Johnson), and the court upheld their parental rights. In doing so, it legally defined the true mother as the woman who, according to the surrogacy agreement, intends to create and raise a child.
- Latin American fertility specialists convened in Chile to discuss assisted reproduction and its ethical and legal status.
- The Chinese Ministry of Health banned gestational surrogacy because of the legal complications of defining true parenthood and possible refusal by surrogates to relinquish a baby.
- 2009 – The Chinese government increased enforcement of the gestational-surrogacy ban, and Chinese women began coming forth with complaints of forced abortions.
Surrogacy has the potential for various kinds of clash between surrogate mothers and intended parents. For instance, the intended parents of the fetus may ask for an abortion when complications arise and the surrogate mother may oppose the abortion.