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A single piece of paper held the key to their lives, their future, and now it was being questioned.
As the couple and their two children lined up to clear immigration at the New Delhi airport last Saturday, they handed their documents to the officer — Canadian passports for themselves and their daughter, an entry visa for their son.
The next few hours were a blur as immigration officers examined the paper while others bombarded the couple with questions. Why didn’t the boy have a passport? Why just an entry visa? Who was he? Who, indeed.
Their story began in 2005 when they travelled to India to hire a surrogate after years of unsuccessful fertility treatments. The eggs were donated by an unknown woman and fertilized by the man’s sperm. Soon, the surrogate was pregnant with twins. In March 2006, the babies, a boy and a girl, were born.
The couple went to the Canadian High Commission in New Delhi to apply for Canadian citizenship for the twins to bring them home. DNA tests were requested. To the couple’s horror, the boy was found to be genetically unrelated, suggesting a mix-up at the Indian fertility lab. They faced the choice of returning to Canada with their daughter and leaving their son behind, or remaining in India.
At the airport, they were finally cleared. As they settled in their seats and the plane took off for Toronto, the couple shed some tears, laughed a bit. “We dreamed of this day every day but never thought it would happen,” the man says. On Sunday, the family of four arrived at Pearson airport. They were finally home.
The couple’s misadventure in the uncharted territory of commercial surrogacy, unmatched DNA and lost children is gut-wrenching but not unique. Canada’s Assisted Human Reproduction Act makes it illegal to pay sperm donors, egg donors or surrogates.
When the act was passed in 2004, experts worried it would force Canadians to travel abroad to pay for those services, resulting in complications — like the one the Toronto couple became caught in. If a child born through surrogacy has a genetic link to one Canadian parent, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) grants citizenship. If a genetic link cannot be confirmed, the child is not automatically a Canadian citizen. There is no policy to address a situation where an error has occurred.
Sherry Levitan, a Toronto lawyer specializing in fertility law for the past 20 years, says she has heard heartbreaking stories. “Reproduction tourism is very hot,” she says. “If Canadian couples are going abroad, what are the Canadian requirements to bring babies back . . . Should there be a policy change?” Candice Malcolm, a CIC spokeswoman, says she doesn’t foresee any change to the policy. Meanwhile, families continue to pay a heavy price.
In April 2010, the Star wrote about another Canadian couple, both doctors, who travelled to western India in search of a surrogate. She bore them twins. When the couple went to the Canadian High Commission in New Delhi for travel documents, DNA tests showed both babies were unrelated to either the couple or the birth mother. They were the product of fertilized eggs from an unknown couple. The doctors left India devastated. The twins most likely went to an orphanage. Stories like these are not uncommon from India, where about 350 fertility clinics flourish.
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