I came across this story on the web this AM. It seems to me to illustrate surrogacy at its finest. Because I’ve gone at length about surrogacy at a number of different times in the past, and because I am deeply skeptical of much about surrogacy, I thought it might be worth lingering here for a few moments.
Jamie Underwood Collins is 8 1/2 months pregnant with a baby that is intended for a New York couple. She’s married and has four kids of her own. While she’s being paid something around $25,000 it doesn’t seem that the need for money was her primary motivation. Rather, this was something Collins wanted to do for someone. There’s nothing shameful about being a surrogate, at least as Collins sees it. (She wears a T-shirt that says “This is not my husband’s baby” on the front and “But it’s not mine either. I’m a proud surrogate” on the back.
While the intending parents aren’t identified, it’s clear that they have a significant relationship with Collins. The intended parents have been to a barbecue at Collin’s home, met Collins kids, and e-mail regularly. They’re also discussing future contacts. As Collins herself says “It’s not real businesslike.” That despite the existence of a forty-page contract.
Each of the points I’ve recited above is important to me. I’m not generally opposed to surrogacy in principle, its elements of the actual practice of surrogacy that make me queasy. As I’ve said before, the general idea of altruistic surrogacy is appealing. And Collin’s motivation is a substantial part altruistic. But that said, being pregnant, especially as a surrogate, is very significant labor, and I see no reason why it should necessarily be volunteer labor. So the addition of money to the mix doesn’t trouble me per se.
Money is, however, a complicating factor. There’s no question in my mind that the commercial nature of the transaction can color the relationship between the parties is ways that are extremely problematic. So, for instance, the outsourcing of surrogacy to Indian baby farms, where women are collectively housed, bearing children for non-Indian relatively wealthy couples is troubling. The social context in which these women “choose” to be surrogates is hardly the same as that in which Collins made her decision.
In many ways, what is most striking to me about the Collins article is the relationship between Collins (and her family) and the intended parents . It is, as Collins says, not very business like. Maybe that’s what’s most important to me. Collins isn’t being treated as some wage laborer hired to clean a house or polish up the family silver. She’s being treated as a whole person, with a life and a family.
This isn’t just a nice little detail. I think it is this relationship rather than the forty page contract that makes is seems so likely that the surrogacy will play out well. Indeed, with the relationship in place, one could probably do with a much shorter statement of understanding between the parties. The intended parents need not rely on the possibility of court proceedings to ensure delivery of their child. Instead, they can rely on Collins obvious intention to deliver the child.
The emphasis on relationships is what I have found appealing in the UK surrogacy practice. Generally speaking, I don’t think the heavy-handed intrusion of law and contract enforceability facilitates the development of these kind of relationships. But at least this case shows it need not preclude them, either.