44-year-old Shaun Resnik has become the first single man to have a baby through surrogacy in Victoria, in what is being celebrated as “history-making”, “a beacon of hope for other singles”, and “a dream come true”.
It took over three years for Mr Resnik to locate a woman willing to be a surrogate for his child. After three other surrogates pulled out for ‘personal reasons’, a friend named Carla he met through a surrogacy program and who had witnessed Mr Resnick’s other failed attempts, offered to be his surrogate. Carla has also carried two other couples’ babies. The egg donor was a friend named Bree he met a year ago.
Mr Resnik says he thinks he has paid around $50,000 to go through the process, most of which was made up of hospital bills, medical appointments and IVF.
“This is huge! It’s time society got to see single gay men as dads,” Mr Resnik said when he received approval last year. “I have always wanted to be a dad, I just didn’t know how I was going to make it possible.”
Mr Resnick says he has been contacted by other single men and women inspired by his story. “A lot of them have said thank you for showing us that this can be done and some are going to start on their own journey, which is just incredible,” he said.
A few months ago, Mr Resnick began dating an old friend, Sean. “Sometimes life happens in the opposite order of what you expect, you’ve just got to go with the flow” he said. “For years this was all I ever dreamed of. I feel like I’m literally standing on top of the mountain looking at the view and taking it all in. My heart is so full.”
Around a hundred babies are born in Victoria via surrogate each year, but this is the first time a single man has been approved in the state to go through the process. The only other single man to be approved in Australia was in NSW, whose baby was born at the end of last year.
Only altruistic, gestational surrogacy is legal in Victoria, meaning that it cannot be undergone for payment (only the surrogate’s expenses and up to two months of lost income may be reimbursed) and must not use the surrogate’s own eggs. All parties must undertake counselling and psychological assessments and all arrangements must be approved by the Patient Review Panel before they proceed. Unlike some other Australian states, it is also legal for Victorians to enter into commercial surrogacy arrangements overseas.
All applications for surrogacy to the Patient Review Panel in Victoria have to date been approved and there is nothing in Victorian law preventing single people from making an application. Thus, the fact that Mr Resnik is the first single person to go through the process is assumedly due to obstacles such as needing to find both a surrogate and an egg/sperm donor (both who cannot be paid), cost, and perhaps the fact that single people are less willing to embark on parenthood alone.
All the media coverage of Mr Resnick’s story has predictably been affirming, hailing the birth of his son Eli as a triumph against all odds and emphasising the difficulties single people face in commissioning a surrogate baby.
None of the coverage notes the physical risks borne by both Mr Resnick’s surrogate and egg donor. The former being at a three-fold risk of developing hypertension and pre-eclampsia, and the latter at risk of Ovarian Hyper Stimulation Syndrome, loss of fertility, kidney disease, stroke, premature menopause and cancer. It doesn’t mention the psychological and emotional risks linked to fertility drugs or to separation from the child they carried or who is biologically theirs – no amount of counselling or psychological screening can erase these. It doesn’t highlight how each woman was either reduced to an incubator or harvested for her eggs. It doesn’t point out that while each woman may have participated voluntarily, women’s tendency to self-sacrifice at their own expense – whether by nature or nurture – is being shamelessly exploited.
Neither does the media hype consider the rights or wellbeing of the surrogate children involved, despite their best interests being paramount under Victorian law. Children who are more likely to have low birthweights, who are at an increased risk of stillbirth and are prone to higher levels of adjustment difficulties. Children who are purposefully created to then be traumatically separated from their birth mother and in this case biological mother too. Children who are commissioned like products to fulfil an adult desire. While there are inevitably situations where it is not possible for children to be raised by both biological parents, research continues to show that children generally tend to do best when they are. Surrogacy intentionally thwarts this ideal for the benefit of adults at children’s expense.
Indeed, Melbourne fertility specialist Lynn Burmeister, has said surrogacy laws are too strict and that “we need more egg donors and surrogates” and “to change the way we do it here” so that Australians will be more likely to undergo local surrogacy rather than going overseas. Such comments point to the consistent efforts from certain quarters to relax and commercialise surrogacy laws in Australia.
However, if we know one thing, it’s that financial incentive to sell one’s body predominantly entices poor and disadvantaged women, profit only emboldens corporates in their exploitation of the vulnerable, and children can be discarded just as easily as they are bought. Ukraine, one of the world’s surrogacy hubs, is a perfect example of this. Legalised commercial surrogacy doesn’t solve anything, it only legitimises the commodification and exploitation of women and children.