Surrogacy splits motherhood into bits

Opinion: Proposed legislation silent on those who use foreign commercial surrogates

‘No one wishes to leave children stateless or parent-less, people understandably desperate to have a baby will seize on any such loophole.’ Photograph: Getty Images

‘No one wishes to leave children stateless or parent-less, people understandably desperate to have a baby will seize on any such loophole.’ Photograph: Getty Images

Sun, Mar 23, 2014, 12:01

The word “carrier” is usually applied to bags, diseases and aircraft. But last week, on RTÉ’s Prime Time , Dean Hutchison, director of legal services at US-based Circle Surrogacy, repeatedly used that term about birth mothers.

They are a special subclass of birth mothers who sign contracts to carry, give birth to and hand over babies to commissioning parents. They are essential to the profits Circle makes from women’s bodies and infertile people’s grief.

These women make about $30,000 (€21,700), while Circle Surrogacy estimates surrogacy will cost the commissioning couple between $100,000 (€72,400) and $150,000 (€108,600).

Mr Hutchison strongly emphasised the altruistic motivation of these “carriers”. True, these are probably empathetic women who wish to help childless couples.

Their empathy and altruism makes the business of making profit from them even more repellent. In the United States it is a multimillion dollar industry. You do not find wealthy women acting as surrogates. In India surrogates frequently are illiterate women who can sign the surrogacy contract only with a thumbprint. In the US surrogates frequently are women on low incomes seeking to pay for family needs.

Three mothers
Surrogacy splits motherhood into bits. A child potentially can have three mothers: the genetic mother, if the sale of human eggs is involved; a birth mother; and a commissioning mother. Not to mention potentially two fathers, if sperm is sold.

None of this is without risk. In the notes on Minister for Justice Alan Shatter’s proposed Child and Family Relationships Bill, which will deal with surrogacy, there is a chilling passage.

Women intending to be surrogates must already have at least one child “of which she has custody”, as “it may be desirable to ensure that if complications should compromise the intending surrogate’s future fertility this should not have the effect of forcing her to be childless”.

Germany has banned surrogacy outright. Why? Its courts decided no human being should be the subject of a contract. According to a 2010 EU report, surrogacy is banned in France, Austria, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Italy and Bulgaria.

Alan Shatter would probably say his Bill outlaws commercial surrogacy and only altruistic surrogacy would be allowed. Perhaps he should look at a documentary called Breeders: a Subclass of Women? from the US-based Centre of Bioethics and Culture.

In it, women who volunteered to act as surrogates talk about the utter devastation their altruism caused them. One of the women ended up applying for custody, and gained access to her child. At the age of five her daughter said: “We have the same hair and the same eyes. Why did you give me away and keep them [her other children]?”

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