I must confess: I simply do not read all the gossip mags, so I do not know whether Nicole Kidman used a surrogate arrangement because she was biologically unable to have children or not. If she is able to have kids, but chose the surrogate, then one can wonder about her motivation: was it just to keep her Hollywood figure?
If so, that was a pretty lousy reason to use a surrogate. Indeed, in the view of many ethicists, surrogacy is bad news all around. It seems to create more problems than it solves, and is rightly banned in some places, at least where money is exchanged for such services.
I have written elsewhere about the dangers of surrogacy, so I won’t repeat myself here. See this early piece for example: billmuehlenberg.com/1995/03/02/womb-to-let/
But let me raise two further points. The first has to do with a common objection raised that ‘surrogacy is just like adoption, and we surely approve of adoption, don’t we?’ The truth is, the two have nothing in common whatsoever. So let me spend a few minutes pointing out these key dissimilarities.
A major difference involves the children themselves. Adoption solves a problem, whereas surrogacy creates one. As one relinquishing mother put it, “In adoption, a family sought a child in need of a family. In surrogacy, you are creating children for adults’ needs.”
Moreover, in adoption legislation, the interests of the child are clearly paramount, something which is not the case in surrogacy. As one commentator notes, “Adoption standards and practice have been constantly revised and refined in the light of new understandings developing in the field. . . . It is illegal to take a consent to adoption prior to the birth of the child, for the reason that a woman cannot be expected to make a lifelong decision for herself and her baby in the vacuum of the non-existence of the child.”
Or as another critic of surrogacy has remarked: “Adoption is a community response to the necessitous circumstances of a child already conceived and born, which differs markedly to the circumstances of a child conceived and born for the purpose of transfer to another couple”.
Ethicist Leon Kass says this: “We practice adoption because there are abandoned children who need good homes. We do not, and would not, encourage people deliberately to generate children for others to adopt.”
Or as another has put it: “Surrogate contracts and adoptions are not comparable. Adoption is the fulfilment, not the negation, of parental responsibility. Especially in a country where abortion is cheap and easy, when a woman gives her baby up for adoption she has thereby acknowledged her obligations to her child. Almost always, adoption is part of a conscious attempt to do what is best for the child. The surrogate mother does not admit she has any special obligations to her child; she does not admit that it is hers. The child cannot obligate her, she obligates it: It is a product, conceived for sale and use.”
David Blankenhorn also adds his voice to the fundamental nature of adoption: “Adoption is a wonderfully pro-child act. Adults respond to a child’s loss with altruistic, healing love. . . . Adoption does not deny but in fact presupposes the importance of natural parents. For this reason, despite all the good it does, adoption is ultimately a derivative and compensatory institution. It is not a stand-alone good, primarily because its existence depends upon prior human loss.”
The second issue worth raising is the commodification and dehumanisation that occurs in a surrogacy birth. I and others have spoken to this matter, but a piece in today’s Australian by Melinda Tankard Reist nicely makes this case. Consider the language being used in this process. Nicole and Keith gave thanks to “our gestational carrier”.
Says Melinda: “In those last two words, the woman whose body nurtured this child for nine months is stripped of humanity. The phrase is reminiscent of other terms popular in the global baby-production industry, such as suitcase, baby capsule, oven and incubator. The detached language views women as disposable uteruses. This dismantling of motherhood denies the psychological and physiological bonds at the heart of pregnancy.
“The euphemisms soothe: don’t worry, there is no mother whose voice the baby hears, no mother whose blood carries nutrients to the developing child, whose heart the child hears. No mother feeling first kicks, whose breasts swell, whose entire body and mind prepare for her arrival. US ethicist Wesley Smith said he was reminded of ‘Dune’s “axlotl tanks”, which are women who are lobotomised and then their bodies used as gestational carriers for clones.’ But doctors prefer it.
She lets other women tell their stories: “Donna Hill, who experienced a toxemic pregnancy followed by a traumatic induced labour which she hoped to forget, said, ‘I told myself I was just an incubator. I was just going into an operation and not giving birth.’
“Sydney surrogate mother Shona Ryan told a Canberra conference: ‘I had to forget I was pregnant. There was not the same joy and wonderment. In some ways I felt sorry for this baby that it didn’t receive the same attention [as my others]. I had to deny the pleasures of pregnancy.’
“After the birth: ‘My subconscious, my body, my emotions, knew I’d given birth and were screaming out for that baby. I kept having the urge to tell people, “I’ve had a baby!” The personal cost to me and my family [was too high]. I came to the conclusion I couldn’t recommend surrogacy to anyone’.”
She continues, “Of course the birth of any baby is worthy of celebration. But that doesn’t mean we should avoid hard questions about the fragmentation of motherhood, about a child who may wonder about their birth mother and why she is not raising them.
“We can’t keep our Eyes Wide Shut about the exploitation of women in countries such as India where a booming surrogacy industry, described as womb slavery, attracts rich foreigners. And questions need to be asked more broadly about the global trade in the use of gametes in a range of reproductive procedures.”
She concludes, “The raft of celebrities hiring out surrogates to have babies for them has become almost a modern day form of wet nursing. But the lack of objective evidence about the long-term impact of surrogacy on the surrogate mothers, the children and the families of the commissioning parents is concerning. The process of pregnancy, labour and delivery followed by summoning extraordinary reserves of strength to surrender that baby, cannot be reduced to the science fiction that the woman who does all this is merely a ‘gestational carrier’.”
Quite right. And when Hollywood celebs do this kind of thing on such a grand and public scale, they simply serve as bad role models for others who will be tempted to try the same thing. Many Hollywoodians are already acting as bad examples – we don’t need more such negative fallout from these folk. Especially when children are involved.