The desire for children is normal and healthy. But the willingness to use any means available to have children is not always so healthy – for all those involved. In an age of Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART), we have heaps of new means by which we can bring human life into the world.
There are many dozens of ways in which life can be created, many of them still seeming to be more in the realm of science fiction than fact. As I have discussed elsewhere, there are many downsides to these various technologies, including the now quite standard procedures such as IVF: billmuehlenberg.com/2007/08/30/concerns-about-ivf/
Another method being used in various parts of the world is surrogacy. There are different types of surrogacy, including those which involve financial transactions and those which do not. The latter is found in Australia for example, while America offers the former.
Unfortunately when two types of desperate people meet (those who will do anything to have a baby, and those who will do anything to take in some money), you can end up with some rather tragic results. We see this occurring far too often around the world.
Consider a recent story about what is happening in India. There we find many wealthy Westerners going to India to use women – often in an exploitative fashion – as surrogates. One such tragic story is offered here, which I offer in part:
“Virtually penniless, Vaghela had decided to become a surrogate mother for an American couple because she was desperate to give her own two children an education and a better life. In May, after suddenly developing complications towards the end of her pregnancy, Vaghela collapsed. Before she died, the doctors handling her pregnancy at Pulse Hospital in Ahmedabad, in western India, performed a caesarean section and the baby was born a month premature, but lived.
“No police investigation has been ordered into Vaghela’s death. Her husband, even if he were aware of his legal rights (which he won’t be as a poor Indian), cannot sue Pulse Hospital for compensation. The surrogacy contracts signed by Vaghela and all surrogate mothers in India exempt the doctors and the foreign couple who want the baby from all liabilities, making the surrogate mother and her husband assume all medical, financial and psychological risks.
“The contracts also state that if the mother is diagnosed with a life-threatening disease late in pregnancy, she is to be ‘sustained with life-support equipment to protect the foetus’ viability and ensure a healthy birth on the genetic parents’ behalf’. The relative importance of mother and child are laid bare.”
The story continues, “Dr Manish Banker told The Age that the American couple, or ‘commissioning parents’ as they are known in the business, have given 1 million Indian rupees ($A17,600) as compensation to Vaghela’s family. But for writer Kishwar Desai, whose new novel Origins of Love has triggered a heated debate on surrogacy, the sum is irrelevant. ‘My concern is that we heard about Vaghela because she died in a hospital. How many others have we not heard about? No one will bother to report the death of a poor woman,’ she says.
“Desai is deeply dismayed at India’s status as the world capital of surrogacy. The $2.4 billion industry produces an estimated 25,000 babies a year. Thousands of wealthy foreign couples are pouring into the country every year to hire Indian women – driven by poverty into becoming ‘biological coolies’ – to bear their children at a fraction of the cost elsewhere….
“Although doctors say that many commissioning parents are warm and caring towards the Indian surrogates, they also come across some who are cold and indifferent, not even wishing to meet the mothers. ‘I felt like smacking one gay guy who asked me, after the baby was born, where he could find a wet nurse!’ says gynaecologist Dr Anita Nayar. ‘He wanted his baby to have the immunity conferred by breast milk, as though Indian women are plantation slaves hanging around to nurse babies.’
“Feminists are repulsed at the body of a woman becoming a tool for reproduction. They say illiterate women have no idea what contracts they are signing, no understanding of medical terms and, given the pervasive corruption in India, can easily be fed wrong information about the risks involved.”
And this method is becoming more and more seen as the norm: “Yet surrogacy is moving from the fringes into the mainstream. Singer Elton John and actors Sarah Jessica Parker and Nicole Kidman have used surrogates to fulfil their desire for a child. Last December, Bollywood megastar Aamir Khan and his wife Kiran Rao went public with their use of a surrogate mother to have their own biological baby.
“It is such a big industry – an estimated 1000 clinics in India – that ancillary services have sprung up: recruiting agents to find surrogates, lawyers specialising in surrogacy contracts, hostels or ‘baby factories’ where the surrogates are confined, and hotels where the commissioning parents stay during their visits to check on their unborn child.”
As is so often the case, the wants of an adult – no matter how understandable – are trumping the wellbeing of the child to have, where possible, his or her own biological mother and father. Instead in such arrangements there can be three, four or more players involved. Many are harmed in such techniques. As I have written elsewhere:
As one surrogate mother put it: “Being a surrogate mother is the one remorse of my life that I would change. . . Bringing a surrogate child into the world, thinking I would be doing heroic good, brought only untold suffering and unfinished business for many innocent people.”
Another surrogate mother (to a homosexual couple) said how deeply regretful she is for what she has done. As one news story reported: “For his biological mother ‘Rosie’ (not her real name), there has been nothing but heartache and regret since that historic day last May 11. ‘As soon as the baby was born it all changed,’ the married friend of the couple said. ‘I was crying in hospital when he was having his first bath, I couldn’t watch, I thought what the hell have I done? I never thought having a child and giving him away would make me feel like this. I regret everything, I don’t regret Connor, I regret the decision very much, I just wish I’d never done it’.”
In addition to the psychological and emotional anguish and grief for the woman carrying the child, the harm to the child as it grows up is also inestimable. Indeed, the implications for the child seem to be overlooked in these debates. In whose interests should we be most concerned? As bio-ethicist and lawyer Kevin Andrews has remarked: “The primary purpose of the [surrogacy] arrangement is directed not towards the welfare of the child but the needs of the commissioning couple. . . The child is fundamentally a commodity to be obtained or provided within a utilitarian or consumer setting.”
It is most understandable when desperate couples go to extreme lengths to have children, but there is no automatic right to a child, and sometimes the costs are far too high. The situation in India is just one example of how damaging all this can – and has – become.