Friday, 11 March 2011

commercial surrogacy

on international women's day, radio nz ran a piece about commercial surrogacy (nine to noon, 8 march 2011, 9.36am). apparently, there's a move to ban it in new south wales.

the had on a man who had paid a woman in india to be a surrogate for his son. this man kept reiterating that he wasn't exploiting the woman, that he had taken particular care in selecting the agency he used, he had spoken to the woman several times himself. what he actually meant was that he had made sure that the woman wasn't being forced to go through this process.

i'm not sure that he could ever be entirely sure of that. if she was under any kind of threat, it would obviously be in her best interest to assure him that no force was involved, and she would, of course, do that repeatedly. with a smile on her face.

but even if he was right, her poverty was very clearly being exploited. the man made it clear that he was helping her financially, the money given to her was the equivalent of ten years of income and would allow her to educate her other children and buy a house. in other words, there was economic pressure and the woman felt this was something she had to do to improve the condition of her family.

again, we come back to the question of choice. yes, it was her choice to be a surrogate, but to have to make that choice under such circumstances is a pretty crappy kind of choice. it's exactly the same "choice" argument that was being used by the supporters of the win-a-wife campaign: that the ukranian women were choosing to undertake their involvement with an agency, and were choosing to better their circumstances by entering a marraige with a (comparatively) rich foreigner.

in both cases, it is a clear exploitation of poverty and i was really disappointed that kathryn ryan only touched on this lightly, as did the medical-legal specialist. it was pretty much brushed over. when the man was asked why he didn't choose an australian surrogate, he brushed over the issue by saying there were no appropriate avenues for him to have a family, but he only talked about adoption and foster parenting. he didn't say why he didn't look for an australian surrogate, or if he did, why he couldn't come to an arrangement with one.

again, similar to the evasiveness of the win-a-wife supporters when asked why the competition hadn't involved a woman from an economically prosperous western country. i would also have liked ms ryan to have found out the difference in cost of getting a surrogate mother in australia or america as opposed to one in a developing country. and i'd like to know the demographics of the women in western countries who choose to do this, in places where it is legal.

to me commercial surrogacy is absolutely akin to the sale of human organs, which is against the law. similar reasons could be put forward for the sale of organs: the donor knows he/she is saving a life, and the money will improve the lives of his/her family. in the case of surrogacy, a woman is selling use of her womb and the rest of her body, she is going through a process that can have a significant impact on her health.

she shouldn't have to make that choice because the world is ordered in such a way that she doesn't have enough money to house and educate her children. good quality education is the right of every child, and shouldn't have to be bought with a pregnancy. ditto for good quality housing.

if this man really cared about the welfare of the surrogate mother, if he was really interested in improving her life, he would give her the money without requiring her to go through a pregnancy and give up her child. if he was really interested in making sure he wasn't exploiting a woman in a developing country, he could have made sure that he selected an upper class woman who already had a house and whose children were already going to the best school. but i bet the agencies who organise this kind of thing don't approach those women.

i don't mind the law in nz, where a woman can be a surrogate for family or friends, but without any commercial payment for the pregnancy. and i think it's extremely important that the birth mother lives in the same country as the child, so that she can be a part of the child's life if she so chooses. but the commercialisation of this process is wrong, on so many levels.


MacDoctor said...

Are you not being a tad inconsistent by applying this (very eloquent) argument to surrogacy while applying a vastly different set of standards to prostitution?

JDU said...

I really don't have a problem with women offering surrogacy as a service, even if it's mostly motivated by profit.

However, we do need uniform laws governing this issue, to ensure that the rights of all parties are protected.

stargazer said...

quote please, macdoctor, of this inconsistency. and it had better be a post by me, not by another author who posts here, cos we are not a hive mind.

Octavia said...

There is such a problem with the commodification of third world bodies for first world use, as a continuation of colonialism. I think we'd have to live in a magical non-racist non-colonialist world for this not to be really problematic on so many different levels. I don't think it *has* to be this way, but the scales are so unequal how could we ever be sure it wasn't?
Great read, thanks.

I also love these posts on the subject (from one of my favourite bloggers):

"When the image of the Dusty Goddess-Mother is created for Western audiences, it creates quite ostensibly a loophole that allows people to see it as a part of our chemical make-up, where we exist to serve you and just as easily over-writes the slavery it really is, leaving the Westerner free of guilt and ready to consume bodies, like microwaveable dinners. It comes as no surprise that Indian wombs come cheap for rent, as medical tourism is quick to remind us; too quick even."

Octavia said...

Oh Maud, and it reminded me of this [TW like woah for rape, exploitation, slavery]:
A forced baby-producing ring set up to exploit poor women for rich people who wanted surrogacy.

Autumn said...

I was just wondering if anyone has actually gone to the trouble of asking the women involved what they think of surrogacy?
From what I can see here there is a whole lot of speaking for the women going on - which I believe is also a continuation of colonialism, is it not?

McOte said...

Author: what are your views on prostitution?

stargazer said...

autumn, i suggest you listen to the clip, which includes a nz surrogate mother. and the man who entered into the arrangement reported the view so of the indian surrogate as he understood them.

you're right that we need to hear more from the women. the one question i would want asked is "would you have done this if your economy was structured in such a way as to ensure a decent income, and to ensure quality food, education and housing for all it's children?" that question wasn't put to the nz surrogate mother either.

stargazer said...

mcote, this post is about surrogacy. if you have anything to say about that, go ahead. give us your views, don't ask for more from me.

Kezia said...

I think the question "would you have done this if your economy was structured in such a way as to ensure a decent income, and to ensure quality food, education and housing for all it's children?" is totally valid, but at the same time, global and local economies aren't structured this way, and you seem to be advocating for restricting the choices of poorer women regardless. Making surrogacy a safer choice, I absolutely agree with - but you have to ask who would be harmed the most by banning it completely.

Also, since you also expressed a view on international marriage migration in the article, I think it's valid to ask your opinion on prostitution, insofar as it's related to the choices of women at a socioeconomic disadvantage.

stargazer said...

kezia, in which case we should also legalise the sale of human organs?

and yes, i agree that my view restricts choices of poor women, because this isn't a choice they should have to make. by having to make such choices, we reduce the imperative to actually do something concrete about their poverty - the overwhelming poverty that exists all around the world. the reason women an in the position of having to make this choice is because we (collectively and individually) don't care enough to change the conditions that allow such poverty to exist. for which, see my previous post.

as to your last point, i'm not under any obligation to answer any questions, no matter how valid anyone thinks it is.

McOte said...

Okay, let's try this again.
If you have a problem with impoverished people using their bodies for money, are you against all such practices, or just surrogacy?

Maia said...

McOte - This is stargazer's thread and she has asked you to respect the topic of this thread. You will not be asked again. Talk about surrogacy or go to another thread.

If you want to talk about prostitution, then go find a thread about prostitution, there are plenty of them on this site.

stargazer said...

good try mcote! i think you're new to the blog, but believe me, i give the same reponse to other commentors who ask questions without bothering to state their own views on what i've written. it's one of my idiosyncracies that this annoys me. so i'll try again: what are your views on the post i've written?

@ kezia, thinking further about what you're comment about taking choices away from poor women, that argument could equally be used for slavery. although slavery is illegal in almost all countries i know of, it's certainly an attractive choice for the severely impoverished. not having to worry about where the next meal is coming from, not having to watch your children starve or watch them die from preventable diseases because medical care costs money. if the cost is having your labour exploited, or being sexually exploited, then you could argue that we have no right to take those choices away from the poor.

and you can make a similar argument against the minimum wage, or the laws against child labour. all these are taking choices away from poor people.

i go back to my point: people shouldn't be in a position to have to make such choices

stargazer said...

@ mcote - or what maia said :)

McOte said...

Stargazer, my view is that what you wrote is logically inconsistent with my own views on surrogacy, which are predicated on the use of the human body by a human being for their own personal gain.

I really don't like that you're using "my blog, my rules, post only what I like" to avoid addressing a possible logical inconsistency.
If you don't like your views being challenged in any way, please state that explicitly.

McOte said...

If this thread is strictly about surrogacy, then why are discussions on organ donation allowed?
Your statement is logically inconsistent.

stargazer said...

i have stated things quite explicitly, and i have no problem with being challenged and discussing the issue as you can see from my responses to kezia. what i do have a problem with is someone with a huge sense of entitlement who expects to me to care about what he "really doesn't like". i'm afraid i don't. i'd also refer you to our commenting policy. if you have any further comments to make about the way this blog is run, then do it by email. i won't hve this post further derailed by pointless discussions on how i should comment or what i should address.

in regards to your actual substantive point about the use of the human body, see my comment above regarding slavery, child labour etc. i believe people should be protected from exploitation, and that if we want to improve their condition, we should do it via fair trading laws, fair wages, guranteed minimum incomes, requirements for governments to invest in quality educatio, housing and medical care for all citizens.

McOte said...

I am not a 'he' thankyouverymuch.

Thanks for clarifying; I agree that people should be free from the tyranny of exploitation. However, I think it is problematic to define exploitation as a westerner. You're not in a position to decide what is and is not exploitation.

Moz said...

stargazer, my understanding of surrogacy in Australia is that commercial surrogacy is illegal so there are very few surrogacy cases that don't involve people with close ties. For some random dude from NZ to find a surrogate mother in Australia strikes me as vanishingly unlikely. The fact that this dude didn't explicitly say so doesn't mean that he did not know it's unlikely, it way well be that he know's it's so unlikely that it's not worth considering, so when the question came up he didn't have a ready answer. You'll note that he didn't rule out having a child via a beard either.

stargazer said...

sorry mcote for assigning you an incorrect gender.

and right back at you, i'm an asian westerner and the majority of my extended family lives in asia. i've spent significant chunks of time there.

but your statement also disappears the fact that poverty and exploitation very much exists in western societies. i've sat in a room of women on the DPB who had left their partners because of domestic violence and watched them cry because there were days when their chidren went hungry. there wasn't enough money to put food on the table. i don't believe they should have to go through a pregnancy to put food on the table, any more than a woman in a developing country should have to.

@ moz, he could have made that exact point when asked directly why he didn't choose an australian surrogate. he wasn't directly asked about having a child via a beard, so no, i wouldn't have expected him to answer on that point.

McOte said...

Apology accepted :-)

As an Asian westerner, do you think you're qualified to pass judgment on exploitation in India?

stargazer said...

yes, and especially when that exploitation is being carried out by a westerner.

Blair said...

Who loses out of this arrangement? Nobody. Both parties are better off. So why stop it? You are making a judgement call that this woman's dignity is more valuable than the financial reward for what she is doing, but that is not your judgement call to make. It is hers.

stargazer said...

i've already answered that point at length blair, both in the post and in comments. presumably you think that she we should legalise the sale of human organs slavery and child labour, and abolish the minimum wage.

McOte said...

The sale of organs is not surrogacy.
Slavery is not surrogacy.
Child labour is not surrogacy.
Why are you comparing them with surrogacy?

stargazer said...

because there are parallels. if you feel there are parallels to other things, you feel free to discuss them. just don't demand that i should.

McOte said...

Just as there are equally valid parallels to prostitution.

stargazer said...

yes, as you (finally) mentioned in your comment of 2.42pm & which i've already responded to.

McOte said...

So we can safely conclude that your views on the use of the human body for money are the same across the board.

David Grice said...

To be fair to all, I can see some parallels here. While I can't condone the way McOte seems to have approached this (it does seem a tad antagonistic), commercial surrogacy is, in effect, selling the use of one's body. Just like organ donation and, dare I say it, prostitution.

However (and it is a big however) any parallels are not all that relevant to a discussion about commercial surrogacy. All they do is help place things into a wider context - at best.

The key to this discussion, in my view, is the consideration of "choice". Every person should be free to do with their body whatever they wish (perhaps so long as it causes no harm to others). But to what extent do we "choose".

Our choices are driven by many factors - our past experiences, our physical and mental health, our economic situation, and by the influence of others.

People who are strong in themselves, with a critical ability to analyse their own motives and influences generally make freer choices than others. Others who are perhaps unaware of the influences on them.

But even if you are aware, let us say you are placed in a position of poverty with little way out. You are then offered something like commercial surrogacy. You can get a lot of money just for lending your body (with considerable risk on so many levels). You are more likely to take up that offer because of the position you were placed in.

And even then, when people choose to offer those in the depths of poverty such options, there are two possible motives. 1: I am choosing to go down this track, and I could offer the money to someone who really doesn't need it, or I could give it to someone who really does. 2: I want this so the best way to get it is to exploit those in desperate circumstances.

Which brings me to informed consent - the cornerstone of choice. If someone is pressured into action, they are not making a free choice.

Commercial surrogacy might be a free decision made by a woman. But one would have to tread extremely carefully because it is something that is all to often a matter of exploitation.

The closing comment I would make is that, the argument that opposition to commercial surrogacy and "mail order brides" takes away the choices of those women who wish to do that is countered by the consideration of whether or not they really did choose it, or whether they were led there by circumstance.

Thank you stargazer. The fundamental principles at work here is a subject that has long fascinated me.

Nicky said...

Stargazer, I am well impressed with your forbearance and cogency in dealing with certain comments. Keep it up, and your blogs.

stargazer said...

@ nicky and david, thank you so much for your kind comments. it has been a little gruelling. david, i really appreciate your taking the time to share your thoughts (sorry your comment got trapped in spam).

this is one of the things that bothers me: invariable the "choice" argument is used for a whole range of actions that serve to exploit the poor, and serve to either embed the status quo or to resist any measures that would improve the choices for poor people. there needs to be some way to move beyond that, so that people really do have freedom and decent choices.

as i write this, i'm watching news of the earthquake in japan. those poor people. this is just too awful.

Iona said...

One of the things often overlooked in debates about this issue is the citizenship status of the child. If the birth mother and father aren't NZ citizens, they're going to fall foul of our citizenship laws and potentially also laws and conventions around child trafficking.

David Grice said...

Yes, stargazer, I know we are getting OT but the quake, and so many of the recent terrible events, leave me with a physical feeling of aching in my arms.

Maybe it is just an unfulfilled parental feeling, but I just so want to put my arms around the world and take away its pain. At times like this, I feel I have an unlimited capacity to absorb the pain of others. I just wish I could actually do it.

Much love.

Hazel Parson said...

I'm finding this discussion really, really interesting.

"i'm not sure that he could ever be entirely sure of that. if she was under any kind of threat, it would obviously be in her best interest to assure him that no force was involved, and she would, of course, do that repeatedly. with a smile on her face."

Of course he couldn't ever be entirely sure she wasn't under some kind of pressure. He bears some responsiblity to make sure, to the extent that he is able, that she's not being exploited. But if he did take steps to satisfy himself that she wasn't being exploited or acting under duress, that the decision to enter into this contract was entirely her own and that she was happy to be doing so, then surely that's enough?

I absolutely agree with you that the woman in your example was acting under financial pressure. But. We - being most humans everywhere - make a lot of our decisions while acting under financial pressure, because most of us are (and, yes, what constitutes "financial pressure" varies widely). That doesn't make those decisions subjectively illegitimate.

"to me commercial surrogacy is absolutely akin to the sale of human organs, which is against the law. similar reasons could be put forward for the sale of organs: the donor knows he/she is saving a life, and the money will improve the lives of his/her family. in the case of surrogacy, a woman is selling use of her womb and the rest of her body, she is going through a process that can have a significant impact on her health."

I think you're conflating morality and legality here. Yes, the sale of human organs is illegal. I believe the NZ healthcare system does not offer money for blood or sperm either, though it accepts both. The healthcare system in the US does exchange blood and semen for cash. And I agree that there's a distinction between blood and sperm, both being parts of the human body that regenerate, and organs, which do not. But as far as I can see pregnancy falls somewhere in the middle. If the pregnancy goes well (and most do; and hopefully the surrogacy contract covers all healthcare expenses), then the woman will be able to have further children if she so desires. She will have other eggs available to her.

(I wouldn't have a problem with an adult consenting to sell a kidney. I just think it'd be difficult to establish full consent, and I think that giving up a kidney is a more serious decision than choosing to carry a baby (in most circumstances), which is why I agree that it should be illegal.)

"i don't mind the law in nz, where a woman can be a surrogate for family or friends, but without any commercial payment for the pregnancy. and i think it's extremely important that the birth mother lives in the same country as the child, so that she can be a part of the child's life if she so chooses. but the commercialisation of this process is wrong, on so many levels."

1. Emotional pressure (from loved ones who need your help) can be much harder to withstand than financial pressure. That isn't the point of your post, I know, but I think it should be said.
2. Women who engage in surrogacy for money may be in a better position to negotiate terms and conditions than women doing it for love or friendship. It's more arms-length and emotionally neutral. There aren't feelings of friendship or love towards the person you're negotiating with, so it may be easier to ask for things.
3. Women who engage in surrogacy may not have any interest in that child. That's okay.

I've had real difficulty trying to understand what people mean when they use the word "choice". Ideally we'd be happy with every choice we made - but I think even in a theoretical world where nobody suffers for lack of money people would still choose to do things, knowingly and rationally, that didn't necessarily make them happy - and be comfortable with the choice nevertheless.

Katherine B said...

Are there surrogacy laws in Australia that protect the rights of the parent(s)* to see the child?

*By "parent(s)" I mean the person or people seeking a surrogate.

stargazer said...

@katherine, sorry i have no idea. presumably there's some kind of contract by which these parents get custody of the child.

@hazel, thanks for your comment. i have real issues with the basic premise of your argument ie that most of us have to do things we don't like due to financial constraints, because you seem to be treating all things as equal. having a job you don't like but continue with to earn an income is quite different to having to go through labour pains and all the other things that are associated with pregnancy. but more than that, if you take the job as an example, you may choose to stay with it because of high unemployment or the fact that you can't bear to go through the stress of finding another one. that is a valid choice. but say you were subject to bullying or sexual harassment in your workplace. you still have the choice to leave, but it's a choice you shouldn't have to make. not all choices are equal, and there should be legal protection so that people don't have to make that kind of choice.

i see pregnancy or selling an organ beyond just "something you don't want to do", because every pregnancy involved health risks, it involves pain, and just because your last pregnancy went well it doesn't mean the next one will. in other words it's a step further.

regarding your point about forced pregnancy, my point is that it is extremely difficult to be 100% sure that force is not involved. as i said, for someone under threat of violence if the surrogacy doesn't go ahead, a face-to-face interview isn't going to reveal that fact. "to the extent he is able" is a pretty low level of responsibility, in fact it's hardly any responsibility at all - it's a cop-out. checking that an agency is reputable seems, again, to be very difficult to prove.

you say that you "think it'd be difficult to establish full consent" in relation to a kidney transplant, but i can't see how it would be any different to establishing full consent to a surrogate pregnancy.

i can't see where i'm conflating morality with legality. it's illegal to pay a surrogate mother in nz, it's illegal in other countries, and it looks like it's going to be illegal soon in new south wales. it's illegal in some other states of australia already. most laws are based on moral arguments aren't they - repeal of s59 for example, regulation of the stock market, murder, theft, sale of goods act, contract law etc etc etc.

your view that donating a kidney is a "more serious" decision than a pregnancy, but that seems to be a moral judgement on your part. a pregnancy, particularly in a country with a much higher mortality rate for mothers, is also a health risk. on the other hand, plenty of people have managed to live healthy lives with one kidney.

i think the decision to go ahead with a surrogate pregnancy is an entirely rational one. i don't think i've ever said otherwise. given the circumstances, i totally understand that it might be the best decision to make. i also realise that making surrogacy illegal could have terrible consequences for people living with finacial hardship. but i think i've already covered that argument about taking choices away from the poor in comments above.

finally, i think your point about the emotional issues around asking a friend or family member to be a surrogate are really important, and something i hadn't thought of. however, i don't think the answer to that is to allow commercial surrogacy. as i've said before, i don't think a woman should have to go through a pregnancy to put food on the table, or to have access to quality housing/education for her children. society has a responsibility to ensure that she has all of that.

AnneE said...

I have researched and written at some length about surrogacy. New Zealand law is based on the premise that there are some uses of the human body that should not be able to be commercialised. It is illegal to buy or sell human beings, human organs and human eggs, sperm or embryos in this country, and it is also illegal to buy or sell gestation and birth. Moreover, contracts involving "surrogacy" are not enforceable in a court of law. So the "surrogate" - that is, the birth mother - cannot be forced to hand over the child, but niether can the "commissioning parent/s" be forced to take the child if they change their minds (as has frequently happened overseas). Neither children nor the means to acquire children should be bought or sold.