Surrogacy can be just another form of slavery


A host of ethical dilemmas attaches to the concept of surrogate motherhood

YOU WOULD want to be very hard-hearted indeed not to feel sympathy for infertile couples. The longing to have a child of your own is very deeply embedded in the human psyche. In the case of some couples, the endless cycles of IVF, with their alternate forays into hope and despair, or the simple tragedy of being born without a functioning uterus for others, all make surrogacy seem like the logical and very human next step.

This can seem a particularly attractive option, where the couple’s own genetic material is being used. The child will grow up and be part of a biologically related network of relatives.

We see in media reports delighted parents talking in emotional terms about the precious gift of life which a generous woman has given them.

Then there are the heart-rending stories of “stateless” children, whose genetic parents have no rights. For what it’s worth, I would be in favour of regularising the situation of these children as swiftly as possible. They are as precious as any other children and deserve their basic rights to an identity, a family and a nationality.

However, I would then ban surrogacy, as they have done in other European states such as Austria, Germany and France. The European Court of Human Rights recently upheld the Austrian ban on surrogacy. The Austrian argument is that “splitting” motherhood between a biological and gestational mother is a very bad idea for children, and even worse when another party or two is involved, as in the case of donor eggs and sperm.

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter issued a document clarifying the position of children born abroad to surrogates. It is a legalistic document which never even hints that there are ethical dilemmas attached to surrogacy.

However, it does state this: “If the surrogate mother is illiterate, a lawyer must read the terms of the application or affidavit to her in a language which she understands and the lawyer must then make an affidavit confirming that this has been done.”

Rebecca Haimowitz and Vaishali Sinha made a documentary called Made in India about two middle-class Americans contracting a woman, Aasyia, in Mumbai, to carry their biological child. Aasyia is shown wearing a hijab in her one-room home that she shares with her husband and three beautiful children. The hijab is not for religious reasons, but to prevent her being identified by her neighbours. When she first heard about surrogacy, she laughed, because she did not know pregnancy was possible without “a relationship with a man”.

Then, this quick-witted, resourceful woman, who admits she cannot read or write, says while her sons can fend for themselves, the $2,000 she could earn through surrogacy will help her provide for her daughter.

But it is worth asking: can an illiterate woman who didn’t even know surrogacy was possible and is desperate to help her children truly give informed consent?

Aasyia is being treated as a human incubator, expected to have the same level of emotions as a machine. No matter how grateful the commissioning adults are, it is a grossly unequal relationship. If she decided to sell a kidney to secure her child’s future, there would be universal condemnation of someone who could do something so immoral as buying an organ. But is rent of a body any different?

Some fertility clinics have the women live in dormitories under daily supervision, away from their families. One clinic magnanimously allows small children to live with their mothers. Others don’t.

The mothers have to follow a strict regimen of hormone injections for months, first to synchronise the surrogate mother’s menstrual cycle with the woman donating the egg, and then to persuade the body that she is pregnant. There is virtually no long-term research on the impact of massive doses of hormones on a woman’s body. One of the possible risks, ironically, is infertility.

Indian feminist organisations have grave difficulties with the exploitative practices. See

What if the woman is not exploited, but properly remunerated? After all, $2,000 for 24 hours a day for nine months, and then birth, followed by empty arms, amounts to slave labour rates. I’m not sure how you remunerate a woman for having a child grow under her heart for nine months, all the time refusing to allow herself to get attached to her or him. But if you make a payment like €25,000, at least you are closer to the truth of acknowledging this is a commercial transaction.

What happens if the “gestational carrier” gets seriously ill, or delivers a child with a disability? In India, babies have ended up in orphanages because the “commissioning adults” could not cope with a child with a disability.

What about “spare” embryos? Under current Indian guidelines, if the couple fail twice to make maintenance payments (storage and refrigeration costs), the embryos can be given to another couple, or used for research. So the much-wanted genetic child either ends up with another completely unrelated couple, with no chance of tracing her heritage, or ends up being destroyed in a lab in the name of research.

I could not conceive myself for a few years after I was married, and am aware every day how blessed I am to have children. But there are huge ethical and moral dilemmas in surrogacy which must be raised, particularly when so few, including the Minister for Justice, are willing to do so.

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