The Logical Extension?: Buying a Child

Over the last year or so there have been occasional stories about the globalization of surrogacy, some of which I’ve commented on here.  Two related stories from the UK have made me want to revisit this thread.   

This story (with it’s rather spectacular headline, but then, this is UK journalism) is really just another instance of the global surrogacy–a minor variation on an established theme.    Here, a UK couple (Nicky and Bobby Bains) purchased a donor egg which was fertilized with the husband’s sperm.   The resulting pre-embryo was then implanted in another woman’s womb.   This last women–the surrogate–eventually gave birth to the child.  

This is essentially routine gestational surrogacy, of the commercial sort, with a global twist.   I think some time in the past I decided to call this binding surrogacy, since a key feature of it (to me at least) is that the surrogate cannot change her mind–she is bound by her choice.  

It’s not clear to me whether the second story (again with a sensational headline) is really just more of the same, but there’s a couple of noteworthy things here.  The story is about the extension of the same surrogacy services described above to single men.  

It happens that many of the single men are gay.  (You can see why that might be.   Heterosexual men have the prospect of pairing up with a woman who can perform the services of the surrogate in-house, as it were.  Gay men do not.)   It’s the anti-gay parenting response that gets play in the article.  The old “nature tells us that children need a mother and a father” argument.  

But a different issue struck me, perhaps because of the inflammatory headline.  In all likelihood, the gay men are doing just what the Bains did.   The client buys a donor egg, contributes his own sperm, pays for the surrogate, and recieves the child.   Again, that’s the same deal. l

But it’s perfectly possible, as far as I can tell, to do it this way:  Buy egg, buy sperm, hire surrogate, receive child.   I could certainly do the first two things sitting right here at my computer.   And my purchased sperm, certainly, could be shipped anywhere.   I might be able to do the third from a distance as well.   (It’s not clear whether the contracting people in the two instances discussed here travelled to India at the beginning of the process or not.)   It seems to me perfectly possible that I could do all my shopping at home, pay my money and then, at the appropriate time, travel to India (or wherever) to pick up the child.  That does seem to me to be an awful lot like buying a child.   A made-to-order one.  

Now I find buying/selling children to be totally unacceptable.   Which means I have to find a way to draw a line somewhere.   And while I think there is very wide agreement that buying/selling a child is wrong, I think there is greater divergence about where you draw the crucial line.    

I know for some, it’s the buying/selling of sperm and egg that crosses the line.   But I’m fine with that.   (Another way of saying the same thing, I think:  it’s not the sperm/egg that make you a parent.  Hence, buying/selling them isn’t the equivilent of buying/selling a child.) 

For me the problem comes with the binding surrogacy.   That woman–the one who gives birth–I say she’s a parent, and so when she agrees to give over the child, you have bought/sold a child.   

If you do not draw a line there, where is the next place to draw it?   I’m not sure I see one.   Once I allow binding surrogacy–which requires denying that the surrogate is a mother–then how do I avoid the sale of the child outlined above?         

One closing and tangential note:   I’ve also been thinking about the economics of ART recently.   Bains reports that the price is going up.   That seems contrary to the general downward price pressure resulting from decreased demand for children and ability to pay, given the economic hard times we face.   Perhaps last year’s wave of publicity about cheaper surrogacy alternatives in India stimulated demand enough to offset these effects, resulting in higher prices.

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One response to “The Logical Extension?: Buying a Child

  1. Your discussion is very fine, but I miss the perspective of the child who is created in this “brave new world” of reproductive technology. What I am hinting at, is the right to human dignity.

    To illustrate my point, consider this TV reality show where the conception of a child is turned into entertainmaint:

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6807612

    Most people would consider this project to be sick, but the fact is, that it is in perfect agreement with the law.

    Where exactly do we set the limit of how much human dignity there should be involved in the deliberate conception of a child? This is not just a question of children. In the end of our lives we end up in a nursing home where we have just as little to say as when we were children. It can be convenient to disregard the human dignity of children to satisfy the needs of their “parents”, but in view of the agening of western society, wouldn’t it be just as convenient to disregard the human dignity of old people?

    In my opinion we either have human dignity for everybody, or we don’t have it at all.

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