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MADRID, SPAIN – JUNE 07: Ana Obregon presents “El Chico De Las Musarañas” new book at the Westin Palace hotel on June 07, 2023 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Pablo Cuadra/WireImage)
Why a Spanish megastar had her dead son’s baby at 68

Why a Spanish megastar had her dead son’s baby at 68

MADRID, SPAIN – JUNE 07: Ana Obregon presents “El Chico De Las Musarañas” new book at the Westin Palace hotel on June 07, 2023 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Pablo Cuadra/WireImage)

Long stories short

  • Thames Water shareholders agreed a £750 million funding deal. 
  • France banned the sale of fireworks for Bastille Day after nationwide riots.
  • Greece announced crowd control measures at the Acropolis.

Fertility frontiers

In March this year Ana Obregón, a Spanish megastar, appeared on a popular magazine front cover cradling a newborn baby.

So what? Obregón is a 68 year-old single mother. The baby was born via surrogate in Miami – a process that is illegal in Spain. And a week after the initial front cover appeared, it emerged that the baby was conceived using her dead son’s sperm. 

Obregón’s story is a reminder of how reproductive technology is challenging our ideas of family and parenthood. Society – and the law – are just playing catch up. 

Testing the limits. Obregón is so famous in Spain that she has a national nickname: Anita la fantastica – Fantastic Ana. It can also mean Ana the fantasist. The Spanish press has now created a new word for her: madre-abuela, or mother-grandmother. Last month, Obregón dismissed the public criticism as “tickles” – she laughed it off. 

Roe v Wade raised difficult questions about how a pregnancy should end. But there’s a big argument coming about how a pregnancy could begin, including: 

Surrogacy. All forms of surrogacy are banned in Spain; the left-wing equality minister said the law considers surrogacy “a form of violence against women”. But it is legal to register a surrogate child in Spain. Obregón travelled to Florida for the procedure and returned her daughter-granddaughter to Madrid three months after the birth. In the US, the surrogacy industry was valued at $14 billion last year – it’s projected to be worth $129 billion in the next decade. 

Age. Within months of Obregón’s announcement, Al Pacino and Robert de Niro had children at 83 and 79 respectively. Both stories made some people uncomfortable, but neither actor suffered the outrage that followed Obregón. Both de Niro and Pacino have much younger female partners; part of the intrigue in Obregón’s case is that she is an ageing woman with no obvious successor. 

Fertility doctors in Florida and California said that neither Obregón’s age nor her marital status would rule her out for surrogacy – particularly as she is in good health and immensely wealthy. All clients sign paperwork to appoint a guardian for the child after they die – so, from the fertility clinic’s perspective, Obregón’s child will always be cared for.

Consent. Obregón’s son Aless died of cancer in 2020, aged 27. Before he died, he froze his sperm in New York, where he was receiving treatment. Obregón says having a child was his dying wish and she transferred his sperm to Miami for the surrogacy. Several US lawyers said that her son wouldn’t necessarily have had to sign anything in order to conceive a child in this way. 

The law is surprisingly permissive when it comes to this issue – both in Florida and abroad. In the UK, a 2022 High Court judgement allowed a man to use an embryo created by IVF with his wife after her death even though she didn’t provide written consent.

In cases like Obregón’s, consent from the dead would-be parent isn’t crucial. Nor, it seems, is intent: a landmark 2019 judgement in New York granted grieving parents permission to extract their son’s sperm after a fatal motor accident. In Israel, male soldiers in the Israeli Defense Forces can have their sperm extracted up to 72 hours after they die. 

Modern families. In the past year there have been huge leaps in assisted reproductive technologies, from the development of the world’s first synthetic embryo to the first baby created from three genetic parents. What Obregón did will soon look like small fry.

While the public grapples with the ethical consequences, the ultra-rich can continue to access the latest reproductive technologies above board, so long as they pay a hefty fee. 

It’s no wonder Anita la fantastica is laughing off her critics.

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Photograph Pablo Cuadra/WireImage

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Photograph Tom Brenner for The Washington Post via Getty Images