Views of Surrogacy

There have recently been a couple of interesting articles about surrogacy worthy of comment but I’ve just been too busy.   Now I’ll play catch-up.  The more prominent article was on the front page of the Sunday NYT.   I guess it’s third in a series, and I’ve commented on the earlier articles as well.   The article offers several anecdotes of people using surrogacy and, for the most part, focusses on the legal uncertainties and risks.  

A couple of weeks earlier there was an article focussed on a single clinic in Madison, Wisconsin, in the Madison Isthmus.  It offers a much more positive view of surrogacy.   

I’ve been thinking about how these two news stories fit together, and I’ve been thinking back on what I’ve written about surrogacy in the past.   (I’ll link to the entries collected under the tag and you can thread some of those together if you want to get a more detailed sense.) 

I’ve come to the conclusion that surrogacy is, in and of itself, neither necessarily good nor necessarily bad.   The article about the Madison clinic and my earlier discussion here demonstrate that surrogacy can be quite a positive thing.   The two main stories in the New York Times make it equally clear that surrogacy can be hugely problematic.  

I suspect this conclusion should be quite unsurprising.  I have no over-arching moral objections to the practices that make up surrogacy.   While I object to the commodification of children, I don’t think that this is an inextricable part of the process of surrogacy, any more than it is an inextricable part of any other process by which one becomes a parent. 

(It’s actually not clear to me that people who conceive children via intercourse should be immune from concerns about commodification of children.  Where a child becomes a vehicle by which the adults manifest their wealth and privilege, there are elements of commodification no matter how the child came to be in that family.) 

Similarly, much of my earlier critique of surrogacy (if you read back under that tag) focussed on the treatment of the surrogate and the societal understanding of pregnancy.   But it seems that here too, there is nothing intrinsic to surrogacy that is (in my view) necessarily bad.   

These articles, and others I have read and commented on in the last couple of years, make me think that surrogacy can be good or bad, depending on how it is managed.   The outsourcing of surrogacy to what amounts to baby-farms in India seems terribly problematic, but the Madison clinic strikes me as a completely different matter. 

This “it depends” position makes it a bit harder to come up with simple solutions.   If surrogacy were bad, it would be easy to say “ban it.”  But if it can be either good or bad then I suppose the question must be whether it is possible to structure it or regulate it in such a way that the good outweighs the bad substantially enough to make the whole package worthwhile.   (In an ideal world, perhaps one could structure things to have only the good and no bad, but pragmatically, I think this is impossible.) 

So I’ve been thinking about what sorts of laws/regulations/conditions encourage good surrogacy (what I think I once called “altruistic surrogacy“) and don’t encourage or even discourage problematic surrogacy arrangements.  

And here’s where a second realization struck me, one contrary to the general thrust of the  NYT article:  More certain law does not necessarily generate better surrogacy arrangements.    The Times means to make this point, I think, and for this reason links up to the ABA standards and observes the variation in law state to state.    I do realize that the state-to-state variation makes life very difficult for many people.  This is the problem of portability that I’ve discussed elsewhere.    But putting aside portability issues, the Madison Surrogacy Center seems to function very well in a legal environment where these is very little settled law. 

This suggests that what makes surrogacy better or worse isn’t the governing law but is rather something more individualized–the selection of potential surrogates, the matching of intended parents to surrogates, the counselling provided for all the individuals.   The question, of course, is how to encourage this sort of behavior.


8 responses to “Views of Surrogacy

  1. Julie wrote:
    “The question, of course, is how to encourage this sort of behavior.”

    This is really what I’ve been saying all along (or at least trying to in my limited way). The law does not necessarily promote moral and ethical behavior but it can help to be very persuading. The first thing to do in both ‘surrogacy’ and egg/sperm ‘donation/vending’ arrangements is to ban anonymity. This group statement provides further guideline suggestions:
    “In October of 2008, a meeting in Toronto brought together the leaders of several worldwide organizations who actively work to educate and support the donor conceived, parents-to-be, parents of donor conceived people and egg and sperm donors worldwide. As a result, this new network was formed.

    All involved organizations support the following objectives:

    1. End donor anonymity.

    2. Track all recipients, donors and births and safeguard all records in a central, government data bank indefinitely. Information to be accessible by all involved families.

    3. Mandate reporting of donor conceived live births from each donor.

    4. Limit the number of births conceived with the sperm or eggs from any given donor

    5. Require donors to regularly update their family medical history. Medical information to be included in donor data bank.

    6. .Mandate genetic testing for donors and include genetic information in donor bank.

    7. Push our respective governments to inquire into followup health histories of egg donors.

    8. Require mandatory third party counseling for all prospective donors and parents.

    9. Require legal and financial protection for anonymous donors so that they may feel safe to come forward.”

    • The agency plays a HUGE part in matching surrogates, egg donors and intended parents! I totally believe that the agency I go through to do gestational surrogacy is in it for the right reasons and treats every case as such! The owners have had an intimate past with surrogacy themselves and they are in it for all the right reasons! I love them! Not a bad experience to report thus far! Embryo’s implanted and waiting for my positive pregnancy test next week (gest surro baby #2)

  2. Thanks for the post and the links to the other articles. This is not a major issue in the UK but I wanted to do some research about the subject and found your wonderful blog.

  3. It was very good and useful article.
    Thanks for sharing………….
    Looking for some more information.

  4. Thanks so much for this post. I think far too often surrogacy is seen as all-or-nothing. People either believe that it’s always good and should be allowed, or it is never good and should never be allowed. This isn’t the case at all. Ultimately, surrogacy is a relationship, and like all relationships, surrogacy can be healthy and mutually beneficial, or unhealthy and one-sided. So much depends on the personalities involves. Unfortunately, I don’t have any idea how we can encourage the healthy over the unhealthy in any quick and easy way. The only way I can think of is through the fostering of healthy psychological development of all people, but I think that’s just a utopian dream.

  5. Don’t you see the sharing of a womb as step into intimacy wrapped around a passed-around child whose umbilicus belongs to – well who ??

    • I’m not sure whether your comment is addressed to me or to someone else, but I’ll take a stab at responding. I wrote a lot about surrogacy a year or so ago. For the most part, I think I stand by what I said then. I do think that being pregnant/giving birth is at least akin to caring for an infant and thus, given my attachment to a functional/de facto test, it counts for something. I find it deeply disturbing when the surrogate is treated as a servant of sorts, bound to perform a duty by virtue of a contract.

      What interests me about the surrogacy discussed in the Wisconsin instance and in some of the others is that the surrogate is treated with respect, rather than as a menial servant. Where the law is unclear or where the law recognizes the surrogate as a legal parent, maybe the surrogate really has to be treated with respect.

  6. The child carried by a surrogate is a mixture of blood from the surrogate/umbilcally linked parent and sperm/egg from others – is this cocktail a fair start in life for someone? I don’t think it is at all, I’m afraid.

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