I’m having a bit of a hard time getting back in the groove, partly because I feel behind and also slightly out of focus. Today I’m going to try to write through an idea that’s be knocking around my head for a bit.
In several areas I’ve written about, it seems to me that there is wide variation in human responses. For example, some women are successful surrogates–they undertake a pregnancy for another person or a couple, turn the baby over to that couple when it is born, and find the whole thing a rewarding experience. Other women cannot imagine doing this. (I’m prepared to believe them when they say they’d never be able to.) Similarly, I accept that some people conceived with sperm from a third party feel a deep need to find and perhaps have a relationship with that third party. But it also seems quite clear to me that some people do not feel this need.
Additionally, some women and men provide gametes for other people and have no regrets about having done so. They may even think of it as an act of compassion or generosity. But other people would never do this.
The conclusion I’d reach from all this is that people vary in their attitudes and responses towards assisted reproductive technology. Some people are comfortable with things that other people could not abide. And if I put it like this, can it possibly be news? The question is what should follow from this observation.
For the moment, I’m going to narrow my focus to surrogacy. (I’ll come back to the others in a later post. I think there may be some significant differences I need to think about.)
It seems to me that my analysis suggests that surrogacy ought to be permitted. I can see the social utility of the practice. My main concern has been the well-being of the women who become surrogates. And if, as seems to be the case, there are women who find being surrogates not merely tolerable but actually rewarding, then it seems to me my concern cannot justify barring the practice.
There is, however, a remaining risk which merits discussion. It seems inevitable that from time to time a woman contemplating surrogacy will think she is in one group (those who find surrogacy a positive and rewarding experience) and hence agree to be a surrogate, only to discover she is actually in the second group (those who cannot comply with the requirement of giving up the child when it is born). If (and really more likely when) this happens, one can be left with a very unfortunate situation. This is when litigation results.
Obviously if one is going to permit surrogacy, one must try to minimize this risk. You could certainly eliminate the risk by prohibiting surrogacy. But while I am concerned about the well-being of the women who may contemplate surrogacy, I also believe in supporting women’s autonomy. I believe women are competent to make about whether or not to be surrogates. I would not bar the practice in order to protect women from themselves, as it were.
What is really required is that women contemplating being surrogates have a fair degree of self-knowledge. They must know themselves well enough to decide whether they can do what is required. But I doubt many women undertake surrogacy without some serious consideration.
They may also need information on which to base their decision. But I am mindful here of the ways in which those opposed to abortion have sought to transform requirements of consent into opportunities for coercion. There’s a critical difference between procedures honestly intended to help women understand the obligations they are undertaking and those intended to dissuade women from undertaking them.
I’m actually surprised to find that I know see allowing surrogacy as one way of asserting women’s autonomy, but I suppose it makes sense. I tend to believe in human agency. I don’t believe that women and men are narrowly programmed to act in particular ways at particular times. I believe in individual variation and in our own abilities to find those variations which most suit each of us.