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Commercial Surrogacy: Can a Woman Forget the Child She Has Borne?

Tuesday, 1 February 2011  | Denise Cooper-Clarke

Can a mother forget the child she has borne?

The announcement on January 18 that Nicole Kidman and her husband Keith Urban had become the parents of a daughter through a “gestational carrier” provoked a flood of comment in the media. It raises important questions about the morality of surrogate motherhood, particularly commercial surrogacy, where a woman is paid to carry in her womb and give birth to a child who will then be handed over to the “commissioning parents”. Some see surrogacy as something of a fad among celebrities, with recent examples including Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick, Kelsey Grammer and estranged wife Camille, and gay couple Elton John and David Furnish. Surrogate children might be seen as the latest fashion accessory, to be enjoyed for all the advantages they bring to life, but with the time consuming, inconvenient, and painful aspects of parenthood outsourced. Celebrities and the wealthy already often hand their children over to nannies once they are born; surrogacy could be seen as simply an extension of the practice before birth.

Even ordinary people are accustomed to pay others to perform tasks that we choose not to perform. Most of us don’t make our own clothes or grow our own food. We might have a housecleaner or a gardener. Most parents will have paid a babysitter. How is this different from paying a woman to bear a child? Is a “gestational carrier” just another service provider?

This seems to be the view of Susie O'Brien: "It's reasonable to assume that people who want kids so badly they are willing to .... use surrogates are going to make terrific parents.... And good luck to them if they have the money and manage to find someone to be the surrogate” (Herald Sun, January 19, 2011).

The main objection to this view is that surrogacy involves not just the provision of a service—womb rental, if you like—but the establishment of arguably one of the most intimate relationship between two human beings, that of mother and child. “To have carried a baby in your womb, shared a blood supply, felt its little feet kick against your abdomen, heard its little heart beat next to yours and then to have given birth to a living human child you have been longing to cuddle is not a trivial act” (Miranda Devine The Daily Telegraph January 20, 2011). Viewed from this perspective, commercial surrogacy more resembles prostitution than babysitting. It commodifies the (gestational) mother’s body.

So it is not surprising that feminists have been among the harshest critics of commercial surrogacy. In particular, feminist theologians have emphasised the unity of the body with the self, contra Greek dualist thinking. My body and “I” cannot be separated. One cannot “use” a person’s body without using them as a person. It is a fundamental ethical principle that no human being should be treated as a means to an end, but always as an end in themselves. The Christian basis for this principle is the creation of humankind in the image of God, with inherent dignity and worthy of respect.

The same principle underlies concerns that commercial surrogacy commodifies not only the woman’s body, but also the baby to be born.  In an infamous 1980s U.S. case, surrogate mother Mary Beth Whitehead changed her mind about turning over her daughter, Melissa (baby M) to the commissioning parents, the Sterns. Melissa had been conceived by artificial insemination of Mrs. Whitehead using Dr. Stern’s sperm. In the ensuing court case, the judge awarded custody to the father, Dr. Stern, on the basis that Mrs. Whitehead should honour the contract she had made. The baby was treated as a product “manufactured” by the surrogate, to be bought and sold, and to be owned by one party or another.

Another concern Christians and feminists share is for justice for the disadvantaged. Many feminists believe that surrogacy is a form of oppression and that the choice for a woman to become a surrogate is really no choice at all. Celebrity couples reportedly pay round $150,000 for the services of a surrogate. The same concerns raised in relation to paying for organs for transplantation apply here, too. Will it not be the disadvantaged who “choose” to earn money this way? In fact, since commercial surrogacy is illegal in Australia (unlike the U.S.), most Australians go overseas to find a surrogate, typically to India or Thailand, where the going rate is round $50,000.

Altruistic surrogacy is legal in Australia under fairly tight regulation, as it should be. A woman may choose, as a precious gift, to act as a gestational mother for a couple who are infertile. The surrogate may receive her medical and other expenses, but may not profit from the arrangement. The least problematic situation, ethically, would be where the surrogate was not the genetic mother of the child (unlike the baby M case), and donor gametes were not involved (that is, the couple’s infertility is due to the inability of the woman to carry a foetus—for example, due to a diseased or absent uterus—but an embryo may be formed using the eggs and sperm of the couple).

Even this situation will involve sensitive and detailed negotiations, most likely in the context of an existing and ongoing relationship between the woman and the couple. There may be unforseen difficulties and complications. Certainly not every woman, perhaps very few, would be able to give up the child she has borne.  For this reason, some states require that a woman must have a family of her own before she can act as a surrogate. But these difficulties and potential problems are nowhere near as great as when a woman is offered a large amount of money to “rent her womb” and manufacture a child for someone else.

It is for very good reasons that commercial surrogacy is banned in Australia.



February 23, 2012, 4:55PM
People who have been trying to conceive for 10 years may not be excellent parents and be able to have an honest and open relationship with a surrogate

Wombs are often not rented and used for free. I myself have just had a baby for another couple without any financial reward, quite the opposite is true. During the pregnany I was unable to work or look after my own child as well as after the baby was born I nearly bleed to death and had 2 extra surgeries to stop the bleeding and was unable to return home for nearly one month.

Although I will always be a mother of the child, he only will have one mum. There will be a life long connection that we will always be open and honest about and he will have an ongoing known relationship with me and my family as someone special who helped him come into this world.

I feel far from a prostitute. Rather a responsible adult who helped another couple become a larger family and we all have the child's best interest at heart. I am not a means to an end, this relationship and connection will not end until death or longer depending on your beliefs. All adults involved were consenting, not acting for financial gain and we all love and respect one another.

As with anything in life, not all relationships work and some break down. It is hardly ever the case that the surrogacy does not work out. It is far more likely that any parent will seperate from their partner in the next 10 years. Although I did not have any financial or material gain is it fair that I have a servere financial loss from helping another couple that if they were able to have a baby themselves would have to pay the costs.

Commercial surrogacy done in Australia is illegal. Organising for an OS surrogate in WA, SA and NSW under certain situations is legal.

It will cost approx. $25-50K to use a surrogate in India (the surro only gets $5-7)

In the US the cost is likely to be $75-$150K + and the surrogate may receive $0- $35k.

$35k is not a huge anount of money when you are talking about attending dozens of appointments, phone calls, time from work and your family for over a year. It is a 24 hr job for 9 months or longer if there are complications.

Financial reward is not such a bad thing for giving up so much of your own and families and support peoples lives for what is essentially a gain

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