A couple of years ago (hard to believe I’ve been doing this that long) I wrote about disturbing allegations of children being stolen from their families in Guatemala and then placed for adoption (as though they were orphans) with families in the United States. This post from RH Reality Check continues the story. While it suggests that progress has been made in controlling the profit-driven adoption market, it also notes the emergence of paid surrogacy as a substitute for intercountry adoption. It certainly gives one pause.
One one level, it’s obvious that surrogacy can be a substitute for adoption. If you want a child, those are two different ways you might obtain one. While there are substantial differences (for instance, in surrogacy the child is created for you while in adoption the child already exists), I would expect that many couples and individuals seeking children have considered both and then, for one reason or another, made their choice.
But this story suggests a different sort of substitution and thereby casts things in a different light. To begin with, it seems fairly clear that there is a demand for children within affluent sectors of the US (and for all I know other countries, too). One way to meet this demand is via international adoption.
I’m not by any means opposed to international adoptions in general, but it is clear that there is a potential for exploitation in practice. That’s part of the rational for the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption. It’s possible that unwitting US parents may well have adopted children who had been taken from (or purchased from) their Guatemalan parents.
I’m glad to hear that this problem may have been addressed. But that doesn’t make the demand for children go away. And as I said above, surrogacy might be seen as a substitute for adoption.
But surrogacy can be quite expensive, particularly in the US. We’ve all seen the stories about globalized surrogacy and reproductive tourism. There are cheaper places to go than California, India being the one that has gotten quite a bit of publicity. This leads me to have serious concerns about a race-to-the-bottom: What country will provide the most poorly compensated, least protected surrogates?
What this story suggests (and I’m not sure it does more than suggest it) is that the prospective parents aren’t the only ones who might substitute surrogacy for adoption. Those who profited from the adoption industry (if I can call it an industry) might seek to take up slack by moving into surrogacy.
I don’t mean to be all pollyanna-ish. Most ART in the US is provided by for-profit entities. But we’ve already seen how protective systems can break down in Guatemala and so it seems to me there could be a good deal more to worry about there.