By Sergei Lebedev
Fertility Treatment Abroad

With so many countries offering fertility treatment options, you may be wondering why intended parents would travel to Russia for their surrogacy journey? Below, Mr. Sergei Lebedev, CEO, Moscow Agency of Reproductive Technology (MART), addresses the benefits and pitfalls of pursuing surrogacy in Moscow, and answers frequently asked questions about surrogacy in Russia.
MART is part of SweetChild, one of the leading IVF groups in Russia, and Mr. Sergei Lebedev is a renown Russian IVF expert, an ESHRE (European Society of Human Reproductive and Embryology) member, and a member of the joint Russian Duma and Russian Federation Ministry of Health- a group devoted to developing reproductive technologies legislation.
1. Why should someone traveling abroad for surrogacy consider going to Russia?
First of all, surrogate motherhood in Russia is officially and legislatively regulated – in contrast to many other countries.  In addition, Russian companies offer lower prices than those in Western Europe or the USA – sometimes the difference is more than 2 times. At the same time, the quality of Russian fertility clinics is comparable to those in other countries. Thus, for instance, the average effectiveness index (i.e., success rate) of Russian surrogacy agencies is close to 40 percent – which is higher than in the world’s average.  This means that 40% of the time when there is an embryo transfer there will be a pregnancy – this is a combined egg donor and intended mother statistic and there is a huge variation on egg quality and egg age. We are able to offer our services at reduced prices, while guaranteeing high quality. This reason alone speaks volumes about surrogacy in Russia.
2. What do you believe are the pitfalls for those who are planning to consider IVF and surrogacy in Russia? How can they be avoided?
The main pitfall is that sometimes couples, in search of a surrogate mother, either use the services of some unofficial intermediaries or seek a surrogate mother by themselves through the Internet. Unfortunately, more often than not, such unofficial offers turn out to be unreliable, and potential parents find themselves at the mercy of an unscrupulous service provider. The only thing that can be recommended in this respect is to deal with a big and well-known company and to always sign an official contract, in which all possible risks and both sides’ responsibilities are clearly designated. As a rule, big companies have standard contracts outlined that meet all necessary requirements.
3. Is there anything else for the general public to know about pursuing Surrogacy in Russia?
Yes, there is. First of all, one needs to know that a surrogate mother in Russia has primary rights for the child after birth. Therefore, in case she decides to keep the baby, there is no legal way to prevent that. Sadly, sometimes a surrogate will threaten to keep the child, in order to raise her fees.  She will not really be interested in the child, but sees this threat as a way to make more money. Such cases rarely happen.  In all our years of service, we know of less than a dozen. This is certainly something to consider if you decide to work with a surrogate mother independently, rather than through a respected company.
Secondly, Russian legislation explicitly states that only officially registered families are able to pursue family building through surrogacy. Married women can register a baby without any additional legal proceedings.  Single women will have to pass through at least one legal proceeding. Same-sex couples can also pursue surrogacy in Russia, but we strongly recommend for female couples to use surrogacy on behalf of one of the woman acting as a single person.  Surrogacy for male couples is also possible, although the process is legally complicated, without guaranteed results. Russian legislation has its own peculiarities, as do other countries.
In this context, let me reiterate that one should deal with big companies who have good reputations. Those companies provide clients with well-defined contracts that minimize any risk in working with surrogate mothers, and have all necessary legal foundations to deal with possible legal problems that could arise.  I can confidently say that through years of experience, our company has developed a full understanding of Russian surrogacy law. Moreover, on the basis of our own experience, I would recommend to opt for so called “all-inclusive” contracts.  If you sign an “all-inclusive” contact with MART, we provide all the services related with the medical and legal aspects of processes of fertilization, pregnancy and birth, such as medication, extra cycles, egg donation, work of reproductologists and embryologists etc.
One of the problems is that some companies offer more attractive prices, without an honest assessment of possible additional expenses: extra IVF cycles, medicines, payments to private medical facilities, etc. As for “all-inclusive” contracts, clients always pay a fixed sum, and after that the company is responsible for all payments. Through experience, and positive client feedback, we understand the importance of “all-inclusive” contracts.
4. Who can become a surrogate mother in Russia?
According to the requirements of the Russian Federation Ministry of Health, a surrogate must be a woman between 20 and 35 years old, who already has at least one healthy child of her own. She should definitely pass a number of medical tests and provide papers testifying that she is healthy both mentally and physically, and is in an ideal condition in terms of her reproductive health. By the way, one more reason to deal only with a big reputable company is because, at times, intermediaries offer medically unapproved potential surrogate mothers, whereas a big company will never risk its reputation by doing so. Also, our clients can choose a future surrogate mother from several candidates – despite the fact that a surrogate mother’s genetics has nothing to do with the genetics of the future baby – because future parents usually choose a surrogate mother by her looks, the phenotype.
5. What is the situation with egg donors in Russia? Is it legal? Where are the egg donors recruited from?
Oocyte and sperm donation is permitted in Russia. It is anonymous under the Russian legislation – if it is not a close relative donation. All donors pass multiple medical tests in accordance with very strict requirements of the Russian Federation Ministry of Health. An adult photo of the potential donor is shown to potential parents – and that is not considered a violation of the anonymity regulation. Selection is also made alongside certain phenotypic features (eyes and hair color, face, lips, nose shape, etc.). Information on donors that can be granted to intended parents includes, but is not limited to: detailed description of physical traits, detailed information about children and past pregnancies, Karyotype, certain personal information (such as hobbies), information about education and career, personal genetic history and family genetic history. By the way, our company owns one of the largest banks of genetic materials in Eastern Europe.
6. Could a surrogate mother simultaneously act as a donor of genetic material, i.e., be a traditional surrogate?
No, she could not. It is prohibited in the Russian legislation, unless your surrogate is a closely related relative. Therefore, you can be sure that a surrogate mother will not be genetically related to your child.
7. How often must the Intended Parents be in Russia and for how long?
Through our program, potential parents have to visit Russia twice. The first visit is for contract signing and sperm and oocytes donation, or choosing the genetic material donor. The second visit is for the official registration of the baby and taking the baby home. All other aspects can be discussed and solved long distance – by telephone, e-mail, Skype, etc. We can fully monitor all issues connected with the surrogate mother’s fulfillment of her responsibilities, providing her with necessary medical support, etc. Of course, if the intended parents are interested, they are welcome to visit throughout the pregnancy. This is entirely up to the intended parents, and usually depends on finances.  Travel costs are not included in our standard contract, although we do offer organizational support, such as hotel accommodation, traveling, ect.
8. What can you say to those who’ve decide to travel to Russia for their surrogacy journey? How does the infertility community in Russia feel about working with international clients?
You are welcome in Russia – we will be glad to serve you here! We work with you and explore all reproductive avenues until you have a baby to bring home- we guarantee it.

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