Surrogacy in Guatemala: The Need for Further Discourse

Karen Smith Rotabi

Since the publication of my original article on surrogacy in Guatemala, a number of people have thanked me for exploring global surrogacy. But the director of one adoption agency requested a retraction of the story.  More on that here.

Since the publication of my original article regarding concerns about inter-country adoption and surrogacy in Guatemala, a number of people have reached out and congratulated me on exploring global surrogacy. Some of those individuals are old friends who shared concerns about Guatemala’s previous inter-country adoption system and it was good to hear from them. Some are noted Guatemalan human rights defenders and it is always an honor to help with the cause of social justice for they take risk everyday in speaking out against abuses. Others have been involved in criticism of India’s booming surrogacy system and they wanted to know more about the emergent system in Guatemala and how it may fit with their ongoing advocacy efforts.

And, very specifically, the director of MLJ Adoptions requested a retraction of the story because she feels that the agency was misrepresented in the original article. While Reder’s bio on the agency website did have the mention of Reder’s surrogacy expertise at the time of writing the article, she takes exception to any suggestion of unethical behavior. Further, she states that the agency is not involved in surrogacy arrangements in Guatemala and is not using their networks in the nation to carry out such activities. I am pleased to hear this and I am more than happy to communicate that she underscored her personal as well as agency commitment to ethics. As such, she has requested a retraction and as a professional social worker, I can understand her concerns.

So, the facts at hand are that Reder does work for the agency and, until recently his biography on the agency website stated that he had expertise in surrogacy “arrangements.” That fact and description have now been removed from Reder’s biography—it seems that this removal happened as a result of my original article.  This is an interesting predicament because Reder does call himself an adoption attorney as well as boasting involvement in surrogacy arrangements.

However, to respond to the MLJ Adoptions and their concerns, I would like to take this opportunity to state that I have absolutely no personal knowledge of any specific unethical practices by MLJ Adoptions or Mr. Reder in the area of adoptions or surrogacy. Further, I have no reason to believe that the agency has done anything specifically that falls within an unethical range of practice. The point of the story was to indicate a shift from inter-country adoption to surrogacy given the dramatic decline in inter-country adoption as an option for family building. I did not mean the story to be an attack on a particular agency and it was intended to bring discourse about a new and emerging human rights concern in Guatemala.

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I have long been committed to speaking out against human rights violations in the nation as it is notorious for some of the gravest abuses in the Western hemisphere. And, as I said previously, engaging in surrogacy services in the nation is complicated because guaranteeing women’s rights is difficult in an environment of impunity. For readers who are unaware of the concept of impunity or the grave circumstances of women in the nation, I suggest that they learn more about violence against women at the Guatemala Human Rights Commission’s website ( where they describe the For a Woman’s Right to Live campaign. There, readers can learn about the fact that only 2 to 3 percent of murders of women are even prosecuted in the nation; more about this dynamic can be found on where I am a contributor. I have a commitment to this campaign to end violence against women and the current environment for women, a lack of law enforcement and justice, in Guatemala is critically important when considering the rights of women and global surrogacy services. As I said in the original blog, little is known about surrogacy in Guatemala because it is happening very quietly. I would like to hear more from those involved in developing international surrogacy generally and Reder himself specifically could shed some light so that we call can learn more about the emerging surrogacy practices, especially the international market. I welcome inclusion of such discourse in this series on global surrogacy, especially given the stated commitment to ethics that MLJ Adoptions has clearly stated in their correspondence to me related to my original blog.

What I do know is that in general women are fearful for their very lives in Guatemala and it is difficult, if not impossible, to guarantee fair treatment for women in workplaces and across society in general. I don’t expect surrogacy to be any different—thus I suggest caution for anyone starting such an activity in the nation.  Finally, to be explicit, I would like to restate that I “retract” any unintentional suggestion of any impropriety or unethical behavior on the part of MLJ Adoptions or Mr. Reder for that was not the point nor was it my intention. Focusing on that detracts from the real problem—a lack of regulatory control over global surrogacy in Guatemala, the USA, and other nations. At the end of the day, I don’t expect individuals involved in earning their living from surrogacy to regulate this, but rather I am a firm believer in the development of proactive and appropriate regulation. A number of US states regulate the practice and some even prohibit the practice. This leaves me to ask why shouldn’t the women of Guatemala have the same benefit of oversight? And, I am saddened that the women of Guatemala seem to be the target of out-sourcing of such activities because it is just easier and less expensive in the developing nation where oversight of the activity is lacking. This trend towards using women’s wombs for surrogacy in developing nations does not come without consequence to all involved.

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