MHB’s online surrogacy conference in Tel Aviv will inform gay men in Israel about surrogacy options.
Despite the continuing coronavirus crisis, LGBTQ+ men in Israel and around the world are still working to build families. The Men Having Babies (MHB) organization, which works to help parents with the surrogacy process, is moving online to continue helping amid the pandemic.
MHB’s online surrogacy conference in Tel Aviv will inform gay men in Israel about surrogacy options and essential information, with sessions by medical, legal and financial experts as well as practical advice specific to Israel.
The conference, presented in Hebrew and English simultaneously, will cover topics such as financial assistance, the medical aspects of surrogacy, establishing parentage and budgeting, among other issues. MHB will use the REMO platform that will allow general presentations, breakout sessions and expo “tables.”
The conference will feature a number of speakers, including experts on fertility and surrogacy in medicine and law. One of the expected speakers is Michelle Pine, a teacher who was the surrogate mother for Public Security Minister Amir Ohana’s children.
The move online will actually allow the conference to have more speakers and presenters as it is more accessible and easier to get to for those not located in Israel or who aren’t Hebrew speakers.
Ron Poole-Dayan, an Israeli and the executive director of MHB, told The Jerusalem Post that for a number of reasons, the surrogacy process has actually become better in some ways during the pandemic, especially for foreign parents, including the growing comfort with telecommunications for medical and background checks and for keeping in contact with the surrogate mother.
Before the pandemic, prospective parents would often have to make many and extended trips to the US or Canada to carry out the surrogacy process.
The pandemic has also led to more women being able to be surrogate mothers, either because they have more time at home and, or because they want to help people form families while being compensated. MHB stressed that part of the ethical process of surrogacy is ensuring that compensation is not the central reason for a mother to sign up to be a surrogate.
As the process takes 18 months, there is also a chance that the pandemic will be brought under control, or at least more than it is currently by the time of the birth of the child, so prospective parents should not need to worry about that aspect, explained Poole-Dayan.
Because of the pandemic, MHB created an FAQ page and has published a number of articles and resources for prospective parents on issues specifically connected to the coronavirus crisis, including temporary caregivers who can take care of the child until the parents can come to take them.
The organization also advocated for policy to allow parents to continue the process and travel to be with their children despite the pandemic and travel restrictions.
The conference this year will be organized together with the Israeli Gay Fathers’ Association, and The Aguda, The Association for LGBTQ Equality in Israel. Havruta, an organization for religious Jewish LGBTQ+ men, will be a partner in the conference for the first time this year as well.
A speaker from Havruta will discuss the religious perspective of gay parents and surrogacy in general at the conference.
“There is a huge need in our community – the LGBTQ+ religious community – for information about the world of surrogacy and parenting procedures,” said Havruta. “More and more men of religious LGBT people are choosing to start a family, and preserve the religious Jewish values on which they grew up. Because of this, we have again chosen to participate and collaborate in MHB’s conference that will take place this year online.”
“The Jewish establishment has been very favorable to surrogacy compared to other religions,” added Poole-Dayan. “There also seems to be some warming up towards LGBTQ+ people forming their families, as well as more options to have the kids recognized as Jewish.”
Family is important for all Israelis, including LGBTQ+ Israelis, so Israelis make up a disproportionate percentage of parents seeking surrogacy around the world, he explained. Some Israeli couples even go through the surrogacy process twice.
“Israel is completely, disproportionately more active in this field than any other country in the world. We’re talking about a country of eight million people,” said Poole-Dayan. “You literally see as many Israelis as French or definitely British [people], coming to the US to pursue surrogacy. There’s no other explanation than that it’s really ingrained in the culture.”
MHB’s Jewish connection isn’t just in Israel. In the US, the Hebrew Free Loan Society (HFLS) helps MHB provide interest-free loans to parents going through the surrogacy process.
While the event is organized by gay parenting organizations, MHB clarified on their site that non-gay prospective parents are also welcome to participate.
MHB works to provide reliable information and financial assistance, including interest-free loans, pro-bono services, discounts and grants for prospective parents. Surrogacy can cost over $100,000, so the partial or full financial assistance provided to hundreds of parents is important to allow many to even consider the process.