Israeli rescue planes delivering emergency workers and supplies to help victims of the earthquake in Nepal have returned to Israel with an unusual cargo: 26 infants who were born of surrogate mothers to gay Israeli couples and other nontraditional parents.
The rescue mission highlights the growing popularity of overseas surrogacy for Israeli couples who can afford it. It also raised questions about the safety of dozens of pregnant surrogates who remain in Nepal amid battered infrastructure and overwhelmed hospitals. The Israeli government has said it would admit the women to Israel to await the births.
Israelis who were in Nepal with their newborns tell harrowing tales of what happened when the earthquake struck Saturday shortly before noon local time.
Tal Bousidan was staying with his partner and their two new children in a seventh-floor apartment in Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital. “When the earthquake ended we grabbed the children and ran down seven floors with no shoes, no shirt, without food for the kids,” Bousidan said. “I was saying a prayer the whole way down.”
As he spoke to Israeli Channel 2 TV News in the backyard of the Israeli Embassy, video showed he was just one of a line of men clutching babies swaddled in white blankets.
Bousidan arranged for the birth of his children via Lotus Surrogacy, one of two Israeli companies that provide the service in Nepal. Lotus founder Dana Magdassi described a fraught weekend of coordinating the safe return of each of 10 babies conceived for her clients. The Israeli Embassy in Nepal has only three workers, she said, and hundreds of Israelis crowded its backyard, sleeping in tents in the cold night air.
“One baby, when Israeli rescue crews touched him, he was almost hypothermic because he was too cold,” she said. Eventually the embassy allowed the newborns and their parents to pack into a security room at night.
Magdassi’s clients described dire shortages of food and bottles for their infants. She sent extra supplies with Israeli rescue planes headed to Nepal.
The infants and their parents arrived Sunday, Monday and Tuesday on the return flights of the rescue aircraft.
Although Tel Aviv is one of the gay capitals of the world, Israeli law doesn’t allow same-sex couples to adopt or to have children via surrogates in their home country. So foreign surrogacy has boomed in Israel over the last decade, first in India – until it restricted the service to heterosexual couples – then in Nepal.
Magdassi said surrogacy in Nepal could cost as little as a fifth of the price in America.
To create a child, Magdassi collects an egg from a donor either in Nepal or abroad and sperm from one of the prospective parents. In Nepal, the embryo is implanted in the womb of an Indian woman to bypass Nepalese prohibitions on surrogacy. The procedure costs $25,000 to $55,000, she said.
Magdassi said about 40 children had been born through Lotus Surrogacy since she began operating in Nepal last year. Legal experts in Israel say about 100 children a year are born via surrogates to Israeli parents.
Beyond the hurdles of surrogacy overseas, gay parents must overcome legal obstacles to bring their children to Israel. Ordinarily, Israel requires the parents of surrogate-born children to send DNA samples from the children to an Israeli hospital for testing. Adoptive parents can wait up to a month in Nepal while proving their children’s right to Israeli citizenship and passports.
In 2010, Jerusalem bookstore owner Dan Goldberg was stranded in Bombay with his surrogate-born twin sons for more than three months before his lawyers forced Israeli authorities to allow him to take a paternity test.
Magdassi said seven of her 10 clients had received passports for their children before the earthquake; the others got an unprecedented fast track to Israel and will undergo DNA testing in Tel Aviv. In Israel, all the children will undergo conversion to Judaism and be raised as full Israelis.
With the babies safely in Israel, the surrogacy agencies are coping with pregnant women left behind. Paul Hirschson, a spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry, said about 100 women in Nepal were pregnant with the children of Israeli parents.
Israel has agreed to allow the women to travel to Israel and deliver the children, Hirschson said.
Magdassi said most of the 30 women working for her agency didn’t have passports necessary to enter Israel. She’s pushing Israel to issue temporary travel documents.
In the meantime, Magdassi said she was heartbroken to see the devastation of Nepal but surprised at the patches of Kathmandu that were spared destruction – including her company’s lab.
“We opened the lab and we thought everything would be on the floor, but everything was in place,” she said.
Lotus Surrogacy even transferred an embryo to another surrogate mother Tuesday, she said.