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.