RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Let's stay on the subject of pregnancy and meet a woman who is preparing to be a surrogate. Even though that involves giving birth to a child, the contracts involved are often so informal they may not hold up in court. Kristian Foden-Vencil of Oregon Public Broadcasting reports on one agency there that's spent decades fine tuning surrogacy contracts.
KRISTIAN FODEN-VENCIL, BYLINE: Mardi Palan is 30 and a hairstylist. Today, she welcomes her longtime client to her Portland salon.
MARDI PALAN: How are you?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Good.
PALAN: Good. So we are thinking new bangs?
FODEN-VENCIL: Palan hopes to carry twins for a gay couple from Israel. She has a partner and a 1-and-a-half-year-old son.
PALAN: I carried my son really well, and I really enjoyed being pregnant. And people mentioned surrogacy as an option to make money on the side and do something really nice for someone else.
FODEN-VENCIL: Oregon's permissive laws and accepting populace have made the state something of a destination for surrogacy. And Palan's contract has been written to cover every eventuality. The basics are that Palan will get about $25,000 if she successfully delivers a child and another $5,000 for twins. She says she'll use it for a down payment on a home. The contract also deals with ethics. It states, for example, that Palan is not selling her child or agreeing to terminate her parental rights. She can do that because none of her genetic material is involved. The two eggs will come from a donor, and the sperm will come from the two fathers from Israel.
PALAN: The analogy is that I am the soil and someone else is the seed and someone else is the water. So we come together to make the child.
FODEN-VENCIL: The contract says Palan is getting paid for, quote, "services rendered" and as compensation for pain and any emotional distress she may suffer. Palan's lawyer is Marlene Findling. She says it's a good contract.
MARLENE FINDLING: By far, the vast majority of these contracts go really smoothly. This contract does protect her.
FODEN-VENCIL: And there's a lot at stake. The intended parents are paying more than $100,000 for their child or children. Doctors will get about $45,000. The Northwest Surrogacy Center in Portland, where Palan's signed up, will get about $23,000. The center's director, John Chally, wrote this contract. He says he's tried to include every possible situation, even if it seems direct at points, like when it says Palan will get $2,500 if she loses her uterus.
JOHN CHALLY: The contract needs to be black and white because there has to be some clarity at one point in the process regarding expectations. But as with most of those things, those contracts don't describe the relationship between people.
FODEN-VENCIL: And those relationships can be complex. Seventy percent of Chally's clients come from overseas. He says he works hard to make sure surrogates aren't turned into commodities. Palan, for example, went out to breakfast and dinner with the couple from Israel. She was worried they wouldn't like her tattoos, rainbow hair or nose stud. But she says they're artists and took her appearance in stride. Chally says he's turned unsociable parents away in the past.
CHALLY: Surrogates want to know who they are. They want to know what kind of relationship the two of them have. They want to see the joy in their eyes about realizing that there's a pregnancy. They frankly want some time and attention during that process as she's doing a truly remarkable thing for them.
FODEN-VENCIL: The contract goes on to stipulate Palan's behavior. For example, she's subject to random drug, alcohol and nicotine testing. She can't clean the litter box, get a tattoo or have an x-ray. She's also agreed not to travel across the Oregon border to Washington during her pregnancy. That's because surrogacy is illegal for financial gain there. For her part, Mardi Palan feels protected and empowered by the contract. She started hormone injections July 4 and expects to have two embryos implanted in August. For NPR News, I'm Kristian Foden-Vencil in Portland.
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