Human Rights

The world begins waking up to the hazards of surrogacy

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On the surface, surrogacy seems like a wonderful thing: a couple struggling with infertility is given the gift of a child, thanks to the generosity of a woman who carries their precious baby for them. Ethically, though, there are a lot of problems with surrogacy, and horror stories around the world have brought those problems to the forefront. Now, the global surrogacy industry is suffering major setbacks as world leaders have begun questioning the practice of their countrywomen’s wombs being rented out for wealthy westerners to use.

Would-be parents pay up to $50,000, which mostly goes to foreign surrogacy agencies. The woman who carries the baby receives as little as $4,000. Now, laws are being passed around the world to stop the exploitation.

The countries’ common rationale: Ethical concerns trump economic gains — even in India, where the surrogacy trade is estimated at $400 million per year.

“They view their women’s wombs as being exploited,” says Donna Dickenson, a University of London medical ethics professor and an expert in the global surrogacy trade. “There is a history of colonialism, of extracting raw materials from colonies, and that is something these countries have to contend with.”

“For them to see their babies as another one of those raw materials? I think there there’s something to that,” Dickenson says. “Even though that’s clearly not how Western couples see it.”

More key lawmakers in these countries are troubled by the specter of wealthy foreigners tapping their women as proxy child bearers. And they are staking their claims on moral and nationalistic grounds.

Surrogates are routinely treated as little more than property. Once the baby is growing in their womb, parents sometimes act as if they have not only control over what happens to the baby, but to the surrogate as well. In some cases, surrogates have been found to be carrying multiples, or babies with birth defects or disabilities, and have then been put under immense pressure to have an abortion. If the surrogate resists, she is sued. (Her body belongs to them now, right?)

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On the flip side, surrogates can be abandoned by the parents, left responsible for a baby they never intended to care for, and may not financially be capable of supporting. The most egregious example of this (made public, anyway) was when a Thai woman agreed to be a surrogate for an Australian couple… who then abandoned her and one of their twin children because that twin had Down syndrome, and the surrogate mother refused to abort the baby. The Thai woman, Pattaramon Janbua, was left to raise the baby, named Gammy, by herself in Thailand. It was this incident that is believed to have sparked the widespread surrogacy reform in Thailand and around the world.

Western couples may not literally see these babies as “raw materials” to be extracted from countries like India and Thailand, but it’s undeniable that the fertility industry has turned children into objects to be bought and sold. Surrogacy is but a symptom of a larger disease.

Only in surrogacy, there are two potential victims: the woman carrying the child, and the child who is treated as a product that the parents are owed. It’s time we stop letting women be exploited and used for their wombs, their fertility taken advantage of and then thrown away. It’s time we respect the human dignity of all people, both born and preborn.

It’s time to end surrogacy for hire.

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