Men Having Babies, an annual American conference for gay men looking for a surrogate mother to have a child, was held for the fifth time in Brussels on 21 and 22 September, despite protests against the organisation.
The conference hosted 24 stands from private clinics and services from the United States and Canada and invited people from all over Europe to the event in Belgium.
Contrary to neighbouring countries, Belgium's surrogacy laws have not been updated, meaning commercial surrogacy sits in a legal grey zone. Even though all political parties in Belgium are against it, as long as there is no official law explicitly forbidding it, international conferences like Men Having Babies can be legally held on Belgian soil.
The protestors outside the conference, however, were explicitly demanding a legal ban on all commercial promotion of surrogacy in Belgium.
At the moment, it costs about €80,000 to €150,000 to 'buy' a child carried by a surrogate mother, including all administrative costs, according to the American company International Surrogacy Center, which provides guidance and support for both surrogates and intended parents.
"American and Canadian trading companies are offering a range of women who are willing to carry a child that will be handed to the prospective parents after birth," the protestors said, according to reports in Belgian media. "A selection of egg cell and sperm donors are offered, depending on the characteristics that the ordering parents want for their future child," they added.
"We are absolutely against the commercialisation of surrogacy. A child is not a product to be bought, and sadly, organisations take advantage of the fact that commercialised surrogacy has not been explicitly forbidden by Belgian law. They keep hopeful parents-to-be away from the right kind of organisations," said Shanti Van Genechten, the founder of the non-profit organisation Kinderwens, which provides psychological help and information for people looking for a child.
The woman who gives birth is the legal mother of the child, according to Belgian law. In the case of surrogacy, an adoption procedure can be started after two months, which can cause complications. These can include the woman who carried the child refusing to give it away, or the intended parents refusing the child due to a disability.
However, in Belgium, these complications seldom happen as all surrogates and intended parents are screened very thoroughly.
People desperate for a child usually do not have any bad intentions, Van Genechten told The Brussels Times. "People with an unfulfilled child wish are often close to despair, and willing to try everything," she added.
"It is really important to provide support after the fact, for the parents as well as the children. It is not just a done deal once the child is there, which is something these organisations often neglect to mention," Van Genechten said.
Men Having Babies did not respond to a request for comment.
The Brussels Times