Quadriplegic Israeli Woman Challenges Surrogacy Rules And Loses A Child

Quadriplegic Israeli Woman Challenges Surrogacy Rules And Loses A Child

6:50am Jul 17, 2015
Ora Mor Yosef, a quadriplegic Israeli woman, had a surrogate child via a niece who underwent the procedure in India and gave birth in Israel. But Israeli authorities, including the High Court, ruled against Mor Yosef, and the baby has been in foster care
Ora Mor Yosef, a quadriplegic Israeli woman, had a surrogate child via a niece who underwent the procedure in India and gave birth in Israel. But Israeli authorities, including the High Court, ruled against Mor Yosef, and the baby has been in foster care
Emily Harris / NPR

Ora Mor Yosef, a disabled Israeli woman, challenged her country's rules about surrogate parenting and lost the baby.

Single and in her 30s, her efforts began by asking her traditional Jewish family what they thought.

"I wanted to hear how they would feel if I were a single parent," Mor Yosef says. "To my joy they agreed, and gave their blessing."

The next step was getting pregnant. But Mor Yosef has progressive muscular dystrophy and doctors advised her against using a sperm donor and carrying a child herself.

She can move only her head and fingers. But she can drive her wheelchair, manage a computer and a phone, and play with nieces and nephews who visit all the time.

Mor Yosef decided to try surrogate parenting. To do this within Israel, a government committee must grant approval.

Single parents are not accepted. Mor Yosef found a potential male partner — same-sex couples are not approved either — but the committee turned them down, doubting their commitment to each other.

Mor Yosef calls this "very disappointing."

"Because on the one hand, pregnancy would endanger my life. But on the other, the committee would not approve surrogacy," she says.

Growing numbers of Israeli couples, mainly gay males, were turning to international surrogacy as a way to start a family.

Mor Yosef thought she would try that, too.

She wanted to use her own eggs. She had difficulty finding a doctor, but eventually she did and 10 of her eggs were removed and fertilized. Mor Yosef wound up with three viable embryos.

A Niece As A Surrogate

A niece agreed to act as the surrogate and traveled to the U.S., where laws on surrogacy vary state to state, for the implantation procedure. It failed. Mor Yosef says "we all cried a lot" then kept on trying.

Mor Yosef was in her early 40s by this time. A lawyer who later argued her case before Israel's highest court, Shmuel Moran, calls her next steps "original."

Mor Yosef turned to India, one of several countries where surrogacy is much easier than in Israel. There, an egg from South Africa and sperm from an Israeli friend were implanted in her niece.

Most international surrogacies in popular places like India, Nepal and Thailand hire a local woman to carry the child. The birth happens in that country, and once Israel approves, the parents bring the baby home.

What's unusual in Mor Yosef's case is the pregnant surrogate was Israeli and came back to Israel to deliver.

This was an unprecedented challenge to Israeli surrogacy law.

"The mistake was that they came to Israel to give birth to the child," Moran, the lawyer, said.

For surrogacies done outside of Israel, the law requires that at least one parent prove a genetic connection before taking the newborn home.

In Israel, women who give birth are considered the mothers automatically. Even in approved surrogacies, legal paperwork is not done until after the child is born.

The lawyer says Mor Yosef made another mistake by alerting Israeli authorities that she, not her pregnant niece, wanted to be recognized as the mother.

The Baby Is Sent To Foster Care

Mor Yosef says she wanted to get everything in order ahead of time. Instead, a child welfare official came to the birth, declared the infant in danger and transferred her to foster care.

This was in early 2013. Neomi Moravia, who runs an Israeli organization advocating for disabled rights, believes Mor Yosef's physical limitations led authorities to take away the infant.

"She has a house, she has two or three caregivers and she has a very loving family," Moravia says. "What other reason they have to take her baby from her?"

Moran says a better choice for Mor Yosef might have been to just take the baby home, raise her, and sort it out officially after the parent–child bond was well-established.

"Not to lie, but not to come and to fight for the formal position in the beginning when you are risking the most important thing that you want to have," Moran says. "She knew from the beginning, I believe, that she's playing with the borders."

Mor Yosef sued the state, seeking to be recognized as the mother of the baby she calls Natanella. She argues that the child would not exist had it not been for her efforts and desire.

"I am the mother," Mor Yosef says.

The Court Defines Parenthood

Israel's High Court disagreed. A seven-judge panel declared the case "a crossroad between advanced technology, individual disability, the universal yearning for parenthood and the evolution of the Israeli law."

The ruling, handed down in April, defined four ways to be recognized as a parent in Israel.

Three automatically exclude Mor Yosef: a genetic link, giving birth, or having a legally recognized connection to another person with those connections, such as a partner or spouse.

That left adoption. Israeli child welfare officials have declared the child to be eligible for adoption.

Officials declined to be interviewed for this story, but professor Eliezar Jaffe, who helped start Hebrew University's School of Social Work, says Mor Yosef's disability wouldn't automatically disqualify her, as the state considers a variety of factors in each individual case.

But her case leaves him uncomfortable overall, concerned that in the drive to fulfill desires to parent, the best interests of the child can become secondary.

"People who care about whether it's fair to them may be less focused on the child," he says, emphasizing he is not familiar with this case beyond the court ruling. "I'm not saying it's in this case. But I'm saying that when that happens, it's not the best interest of the child. It's the best interest of me."

That, Jaffe says, bothers him a lot.

Mor Yosef has decided not to apply to adopt the child. She thinks she'll be turned down, though she says that would be unjust.

"I didn't break any law; I went around them. I'm being punished now but in a few years I think this will be legal. I may be ahead of my time," she says.

As an alternative way to bring the child into her life, her sister is applying to adopt the baby, who has now been in foster care for 2 1/2 years.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Surrogate parenting is complex. Typically, it involves a situation in which a family contracts a woman to carry and give birth to a child. Laws governing it vary from state to state and from country to country. That has led to an increase in international surrogacy - parents seeking surrogate mothers in countries other than their own. NPR's Emily Harris has this story of an Israeli woman with a disability who challenged her country's rules and lost.

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: Ora Mor Yosef wanted to parent. Single, in her mid-30s, she decided to act.

ORA MOR YOSEF: (Through interpreter) I gathered my family and I told them of my desire. I wanted to hear how they would feel if I were a single parent. My family is traditional, but to my joy, they agreed and gave their blessing.

HARRIS: But she has progressive muscular dystrophy and doctors told her not to give birth. She can move only her head and fingers. But she can drive her wheelchair, manage a computer and a phone, and play with nieces and nephews who visit all the time.

MOR YOSEF: (Foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (Foreign language spoken).

HARRIS: Mor Yosef decided to try surrogate parenting, but that presented other problems. In Israel, a government committee must approve surrogate births. Single parents aren't allowed. Mor Yosef was turned down.

MOR YOSEF: (Through interpreter) This was very disappointing because on the one hand, pregnancy would endanger my life, but on the other, the committee would not approve surrogacy.

HARRIS: Mor Yosef believed she could parent with help. She was determined to find some way.

SHMUEL MORAN: She decided all by herself to try to bring the child with an original way.

HARRIS: Shmuel Moran is one of Mor Yosef's lawyers. He says she turned to India - one of several countries where surrogacy is easier. There, an egg from South Africa and sperm from an Israeli friend were implanted in her niece, who had agreed to carry the baby. What's unusual in Mor Yosef's case is the pregnant surrogate was Israeli and came back to Israel to deliver.

MORAN: She did all the procedure in India, but the mistake was that they came to Israel to give birth to the child in Israel.

HARRIS: He says Mor Yosef made another mistake by alerting Israeli authorities that she, not her pregnant niece, wanted to be recognized as the mother. Instead, a child welfare official came to the birth and declared the infant in danger.

MOR YOSEF: (Through interpreter) The baby was isolated in an area so no one would have access to her. Then she went to a foster family.

HARRIS: This was all more than two years ago now. Mor Yosef still carries pictures of the plump newborn girl. Her lawyer, Shmuel Moran, says a better choice might've been to just take the baby home, raise her and sort it out officially after the parent-child bond was well-established.

MORAN: Not to lie, but not to come and to fight for the formal position in the beginning when you are risking the most important thing that you want to have. And she knew from the beginning, I believe, that she's, you know, playing with the borders - between the borders.

HARRIS: In Israel, as in many countries, liberal sensibilities compete with religious traditions which, here, heavily influence family law. Surrogate children born anywhere are only accepted as Israeli offspring if a genetic link to at least one parent can be proved.

Single and using another woman's egg, Mor-Yosef could not do that. Like others caught in these complexities, she sued the state to claim recognition as a parent. Israel's highest court turned her down, citing no acceptable connection to the child. And then there was her disability. Disabled advocate Neomi Moravia thinks Mor Yosef's physical limitations made the court reluctant to seek a solution.

NEOMI MORAVIA: If she wasn't disabled, they - I'm sure that everything would look different. She has a house. She has, I think, two or three caregivers, and she has a very loving family. What other reason they have to take her baby from her?

HARRIS: Israeli child welfare officials declined to talk for this story, but a prominent professor of social work, Eliezer Jaffe, says people who skirt the law to become parents can put children in legal limbo.

ELIEZER JAFFE: People who care about whether it's fair to them may be less focused on the child, and that bothers me a lot. I'm not saying it's in this case, but I'm saying that when that happens it's not the best interest of the child, it's the best interest of me. That bothers me a lot.

HARRIS: The child's best interests are the next crucial question in this case, as Israel's welfare agency has declared the baby that Mor Yosef calls her daughter eligible for adoption. Mor Yosef will not apply. She thinks she'll be turned down, although she says that would be unjust.

MOR YOSEF: (Through interpreter) I didn't break any laws - I went around them. I'm being punished now, but in a few years I think this will be legal. I may be ahead of my time.

HARRIS: Her sister is applying to adopt the baby, who's now been in foster care for two and a half years. Emily Harris, NPR News, Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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