Kelly Geddes, ’20, Presents the International Human Rights Clinic’s Surrogacy Report to UN Committee

Kelly Geddes, '20, (left) presenting before members of a UN committee. She was joined by Clinical Professor Claudia Flores (center) and Lucinda O’Hanlon , advisor on women’s rights from the UN's Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights.
Kelly Geddes, '20, (left) presented the International Human Rights Clinic's work in Geneva, Switzerland, to members of a United Nations committee. She was joined by Clinical Professor Claudia Flores (center) and Lucinda O’Hanlon, advisor on women’s rights from the UN's Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights.

Kelly Geddes, ’20, a student in the Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic, helped brief the United Nations' Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in Geneva, Switzerland, today on the clinic’s new report on women’s rights and gestational surrogacy.

The report, “Human Rights Implications of Global Surrogacy,” provides human-rights-focused policy recommendations for countries seeking to regulate, restrict, or ban surrogacy. It was submitted to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Geddes was joined by Clinical Professor Claudia Flores, the clinic’s director.

“Surrogacy is a complicated issue that implicates the rights of many people: women who become surrogates, children born through surrogacy, and people seeking to have children who are unable to do so otherwise,” said Geddes, who worked on the report with Alex Rollins, ’20, Marcela Barba, ’19, and Marie Umbach, LLM ’19. “We hope that our report will help to establish a human rights framework that will assist policymakers in sorting through and weighing these implications in order to arrive at the regulatory approach that will best promote the rights of all parties.”

The report examines human rights implications for a variety of policy considerations, including bans and restrictions on the practice of carrying another person’s fetus, whether to allow domestic or transnational arrangements, whether to allow compensation for surrogates, what role for-profit intermediaries should play, and how states can protect the human rights of surrogates and children.  

“Surrogates are often subjected to unfair agreements or even abuse, and as a result, many people have concluded that surrogacy must be banned,” Geddes said. “However, women who turn to surrogacy often have few options, and alternative forms of employment available to them often involve similarly harsh terms and similarly serious health risks. Our report suggests that if lawmakers are concerned about the rights of women, instead of depriving women of the opportunity to serve as surrogates, they may be able to better promote women’s rights by regulating the industry so that women can engage in surrogacy as safely and fairly as possible.”

Current trends in parenting, women’s advancement in the workplace, and the rise in alternative family structures suggests that demand for surrogacy could expand in coming decades, the group said.

“Transnational surrogacy is a relatively new practice, and the different interests involved can sometimes pull in different directions,” Flores said. “States can move quickly to ban or restrict the practice in a way that puts women’s freedoms of choice and of reproductive rights at risk. And when regulations are not comprehensive or fail to take account of the complex realities of how different laws interact, they risk leaving children separated from their intended parents, deprived of their right to identity and citizenship.”  

Recommendations include considerations around women’s choice and informed consent, standards of medical care for surrogates, surrogacy contracts and arrangements, conditions for surrogates, protections for children, and rights of parentage and citizenship.

Flores said Geddes did well before the UN committee. 

“Kelly is one of the most capable and driven students I have had the pleasure to work with,” Flores said. “She is able to grapple with complicated questions and to contextualize and situate information and arguments in a broader context, always aware of the multiple issues and interests at stake.”

International human rights