Social Surrogacy?

There was a bit on Good Morning America last week about “social surrogacy” or “vanity surrogacy.”   I know this not because I came across this reaction piece.  Seem pretty clear that the author does not approve of the practice but I think it bears thinking about a bit more.

Let’s ponder the idea of separating out a subcategory of surrogacy and calling it “social surrogacy.”    I think the idea is to distinguish between surrogacy that is in some way “necessary” and surrogacy that is essentially elective–the latter being preferable to the former.   In other words, if I hired a surrogate to be pregnant because I didn’t want to have to wear maternity clothes that would be social surrogacy.  But if I hired a surrogate because I’d had a hysterectomy, that wouldn’t be social surrogacy.

To be clear, this isn’t really a new idea, though the label is new.   Baby M was the first surrogacy case–about 25 years ago.   Elizabeth Stern–the intended mother of Baby M–wasn’t medically unable to carry a pregnancy.  She had MS and she was worried about her health.   I think by the working definition that makes the surrogacy there a “social surrogacy.”   But I’m not sure having this new label actually very helpful.

They don’t really have a label for the non-social surrogacy, but you might think that the term is “medically necessary surrogacy.”  Except that doesn’t seem right because surrogacy is NEVER medically necessary.   Indeed, having a child is NEVER medically necessary, is it?   People may really really want to have children. They may suffer from their inability to have children.  They may be wiling to go to great lengths to have children. But it isn’t necessary for them to have them.

In a very real sense, all surrogacy is elective.   There are just better and worse reasons for choosing it.   And I guess we are all invited to pass judgments on people’s reasons–and to cast those whose reasons we don’t like into the “vanity surrogacy” category.

As you can tell I don’t have this all thought out by any means.  But two other points strike me.

First, the GMA piece and the commenter both say something about the magic of pregnancy.  (Not their words, so perhaps I’ve distorted?  But I think it is what they are driving at.)   So the woman who could be pregnant but doesn’t want to be is incomprehensible to them.   And more than incomprehensible–somehow suspect.   Even more so the woman who wants to be a parent/raise a child but doesn’t want to be pregnant.

There’s something that doesn’t sit well with me about this incomprehension/suspicion.   Maybe this is too much information, but I wanted to have children and was delighted that my partner wanted to be pregnant because I sure didn’t want to be.   (I imagine many men are in the same position, but possibly they don’t count here because pregnancy isn’t part of what it means to be a man, only what it means to be a woman?)

Second, on the GMA clip someone says “not everyone is cut out to be a mother” and of course that’s true.  We could go gender neutral and say “not everyone is cut out to be a parent.”   Perhaps we would do well to scrutinize the motives people have for parentage and the choices they make.   Maybe people who only want to be parents to have a dress-up mini-me should be screened out.   And maybe some of those people are choosing social surrogacy.   But some of the people choosing surrogacy have real fears (like Elizabeth Stern) and some of the mini-me parents are getting pregnant and giving birth.

In other words, while the point about not everyone being cut out for parenthood is well taken, I don’t see how it leads to general condemnation of the very ill-defined (and apparently infrequent) practice of “social surrogacy.”   If the problem is that not everyone is cut out for parenthood, we’d best turn our attention to how people get to be parents generally.    Might I suggest a licensing exam?




45 responses to “Social Surrogacy?

  1. i would not differentiate between so called vanity surrogacy and so called medically necessary surrogacy. applying the idea of a medically necessary treatment to surrogacy means that the next step is that its society’s job to supply the necessary tools to fill this medically necessary function, and those tools just happen to be human, usually poor, women.

    • I hadn’t thought about this but it does seem to me that this could be a reasonable conclusion to reach. I guess I’m not sure that a surrogacy that is was not seen as “social” or “vanity” would be “necessary”, but I think that’s the implication.

    • I think this comes from a perspective that had completely different circumstances. It’s very easy to say what we would do if they were different w/ out actually experiencing it.

      • Although I agree with the general sentiment you’ve expressed (that it is easy to say what we would do in a situation but, if we’ve never actually been there we don’t really know) I’m not sure how it connects here. I think the idea of social surrogacy appeals to our impulse to judge people–to decide that some are more worthy than others. (Here I’m thinking the social surrogacy users are less worthy.). I cannot help but be reminded of past discussions of “deserving” and “undeserving” poor. I suppose I’m wondering if there is any real value to/justification for suggesting we make these judgments.

        • I agree with Julie. I originally thought what bothered me about donor offspring being abandoned by their parents had to do with money and intention but came to realize that I believe the process puts their offspring as the object of contracts whether the exchange is a commercial or purely altruistic endeavor. Basically its not fair to their offspring if they do it for money or for free. It’s not fair to their offspring if they do it known or anonymously. So ultimately I came to understand the situation not in terms of it being fair or just no matter how the other aspects of it are dialed or adjusted. It cannot be tuned so finely that that their offspring cease to be objectified. It cannot be so finely tuned as to make the denial of rights acceptable treatment. So a thing truly is either wrong or right even when done with the best of intentions under dire circumstances. I can empathize for sure with say a person stealing when they are poor but ultimately stealing is not fair to the person being stolen from. I’m merely drawing a parallel for the good and bad of a thing, not saying that abandoning offspring is the same as carrying another woman’s child.

  2. also, a reminder that ANY pregnancy carries a risk for lifelong effects, whether life threatening, or whether mildly unpleasant.

    • Indeed. And so it doesn’t seem quite right to me to simply discard a woman’s anxiety about this.

      And still mulling over the general topic, I think part of what bothers me about the GMA segment and the blog post is that there seems to be an implicit statement that any woman who doesn’t want to be pregnant will likely be a poor mother.

  3. Stories like this bug me because they are used to paint a bad picture of those going through infertility. They are used by organizations like the CBC to misrepresent people who decide to utilize surrogacy to build their families. Just the way they use older celebrities having kids as a way to stigmatize infertiles as being people who waited too long to have kids.

    I wish people didn’t misuse these family building options so those who utilized them that actually needed them weren’t misrepresented.

    • I think you are right about the way these stories are used and that is problematic. But at the same time, they make me ask the “who am I to judge” question. I suppose this means I think we should simultaneously consider 1) how the stories are used (which you touch on) and 2) what makes us think we can judge another’s motives here.

      On the motive point: I would guess that people have children for all sorts of reasons. And I’m sure some are better reasons than others. I’m also fairly confident that in many cases there are actually several overlapping reasons why people have children. I don’t pretend that I resist the urge to judge these reasons and circumstances. I was right there with everyone else when the octuplets were born some years back. But I do think we need to be critical of our own impulses to judge and really careful about letting our urge to judge rush us right into the first point–the one that gsmwco2 raised.

    • Well I really think people discuss the older celebrities because they are not really having kids they are giving birth to other people’s children – who they contracted some other woman to create for them. They are just paying for the gestation option because they want to feel more like they are the parent of the child its pretty shallow. The point is not to stigmatize infertile people its to identify when people are forcing innocent children to accept a false identity and be their little servant child born to play the roll of their much wanted never born offspring. Not their infertility that’s the problem its that they’d employ a solution that costs another person and their family so so much in order to satisfy their desire to raise a child. Find a less damaging way to raise a child. Other people do so its not impossible.

      • Once again you miss the point because of your inability to look passed your agenda.

        • No I got your point – what ever it takes to obtain a child for an infertile individual is OK in your book. Any mention that they obtained a child in a way that restricts the child’s freedom, identity or right offends you. The compromised rights and freedoms of the child and his or her relatives is of no concern to you so long as an infertile person gets a baby to raise. The suggestion that everyone who wants to raise someone else’s kid should have to do it in court after the kid is born, the way that protects the child from trafficking, just irks you to no end. You want the fast double secret legal-black-market style option available to infertile people even though it comes at a terrible cost to public health, and the health of the child’s entire family and it comes at the cost of compromised rights through falsified records for the child which effects all their relatives as well

          • “No I got your point – what ever it takes to obtain a child for an infertile individual is OK in your book. ”

            No, my point was these stories misrepresent those of us that have gone through IF. I think someone like yourself who “claims” they went through IF would be able to recognize that it paints an unfair picture of who we are.

            But once again your agenda impedes your ability to have a discussion.

  4. “Might I suggest a licensing exam?”

    We have one: We make sure they are unmarried adults who are not in a prohibited relationship to each other, and ask them in front of officials and witnesses if they take each other to be their lawfully wedded spouse. If they say “I do” they pass the exam and are pronounced married, which means they have a right to have sex and conceive offspring together.

    There is no right to impregnate anyone else or get pregnant by anyone else, and it ought to all be prohibited, even if it is to help an infertile couple have children.

    • Apart from the fact that the exam isn’t really used (i.e. no one is barred from having kids because they fail the exam, having kids is not conditioned on passing the exam) I don’t think the exam you identify (marriage) is the right one. Being married has virtually nothing to do with your capacity to be a good parent. The world abounds with married bad parents and unmarried (and even single) good parents. At best it is a very indirect way to get at what we ought to want to know–which is will you be a good parent.

      • People are barred from having kids if they fail the exam, and some ways of failing still result in jail if they have kids (incest, lack of consent) while others do not result in jail but are still intended to bar the couple from having kids together (adultery, fornication). Marrying helps create the stability and permanence that is essential for good parenting, and society is supposed to support marriages and help them be good parents.

        More important, it is all that should ever be needed to claim full rights to become parents together. There should never be any additional tests, genetic or financial or social. If a man and a woman are good enough for each other to consent to marriage, and they are not in a prohibited relationship, they are good enough to become parents of offspring together. We should never strip procreation rights from marriage, or marriage rights from any individual. They are “basic rights of man” and necessary not so much for survival of the species but for survival of liberty and equality.

        • I’m not sure why you think people are barred from having kids if they aren’t married or fail at marriage. I don’t see that this is true at all. People can and do have children outside of marriage in large numbers. So I must be missing what you mean?

          But beyond that, if we are concerned about whether people will be adequate (or better yet, good) parents, I don’t see that checking to see that they are married will do that job for us. It’s both underinclusive (fine potential parents who aren’t married) and overinclusive (terrible potential parents who are married.) I’m not talking practicality here–just in theory.

          • Well, if they would fail the marriage license exam, then they are barred from having kids, at least legally. If they would be allowed to marry if they wanted to marry, then they are not barred so much as not supported or affirmed or approved until they marry. And sure, couples that aren’t allowed to marry, like adulterous couples, can have kids too, but I’d say the laws that bar marriage are indeed a bar against having kids too, though not physically. We just don’t enforce them in a way that actually bars it. We do enforce incest laws and generally take children away from such couples, so some couples that are barred from marriage are physically barred from parenthood.

            The job you want to do (in theory) violates basic human rights. Marriage is the only test that is constitutional. Everyone has a right to marry and every marriage has a right to procreate offspring, whether they will be good parents or bad. If they are bad parents, the state should remove the children from their home.

            You do make a good point that many fine parents are unmarried, and I’d add that children of unmarried parents do fine most of the time. Marriage isn’t necessary to raise children.

  5. Thank you for linking to my blog.

    Re: Julie Shapiro’s comment about bad mothers – I do question what the motivation is for a woman who is in a relationship/marriage and is capable of getting pregnant to seek out someone else to carry her child. I do wonder how she’ll react to the sometimes monumental challenges of parenting, when she doesn’t want to take 9 months of her life to be pregnant and give birth, possibly going up a jean size or missing a few weeks of work. It has nothing to do with pregnancy, really, it has to do with the character of a woman who would make this choice. I know I sound judgmental and in most situations I truly am a “live and let live” kind of person, but this just doesn’t make any sense to me at all.

    Of course, this is just my opinion.

    • I agree. If it just wasn’t a legal option, we wouldn’t be forced to feel guilty about feeling judgmental.

        • Thanks but I’m serious. The problem with the Libertarian belief that everything is a right and everything should be legal, and we can only “personally oppose” things, is that it results in tons of personal judging and all the animosity and guilt and strife that comes along with it. A big benefit of not letting people do things like this at all, besides protecting women from exploitation, is that people can get along much better. There aren’t people pressured into hiring a surrogate or becoming a surrogate, or being judged for it, because there just aren’t any surrogates. Imagine there aren’t any surrogates, no sperm donation too…

          • And then we would have more outcasted childless couples to serve the fertile world.

            • People hardly got along or lacked jealousy or strife before these things were medically possible. The world you wish would exist is not biologically possible, not because of sperm donors or surrogates, but because of human psychology and biology.

            • They shouldn’t be “outcasted” though. You should be objecting to the outcasting itself, not reinforcing it by surrendering to it by demanding whatever it takes to get back in their snobby hipster parenting circle. I think it is good if more couples are childless, it will help normalize it and make us a constituency that gets some respect. We aren’t contributing to the baby sprawl and consumerism of parenting, which is fine, a right people have, don’t get me wrong, but not all of us need to do it, and that’s fine too. Whether by choice or circumstance or whatever isn’t anyone’s business and isn’t even really a distinction.

          • I know you’re serious its still funny. I agree it’s just I have a different approach because pre-emptive law making efforts have failed because they interfere with people’s procreative liberties – namely the donors who are human who can reproduce as randomly as they want according to law. So the way to fix the problem that does not attempt to legislate people and their reproductive behavior is to simply correct the descrepancies the requirements for parental behavior. Just remove the exemptions granted to donors and be done with it. They say they are not donating their offspring then good let’s run with that and not enforce the terms of their contracts that involve parental responsibility for their offspring. I’m sick of the arguments against change focusing on activists being either pro life or religious or anti gay its bullsht, we’d get further if we left people’s rights alone before children were born and just focused on the horrible neglect and abandonment of their kids when they are born. If we want to really see change we need to focus on after birth behavior. Yes conspiracy to commit murder is a crime and that’s kind of what you are going for with banning the practice prior to birth. But the abandonment thing for donors is not yet illegal after birth the way murder is illegal. So lets worry about making the abandonment per pre-birth contract part illegal first before we try and pass a law that it’s illegal to plan it even if you don’t go through with it.

            • I think we should enact your suggestion side-by-side with mine (prohibiting intentional unmarried conception, shutting the sperm banks, turning off the freezers and disposing of the materials, and monitoring the internet for people selling gametes). That stuff can be done easily, it doesn’t mean trying to stop unmarried people having sex, only the commerce, the baby selling. And yes, remove exceptions to paternity laws for donors also (retroactively? hmm I guess so). There is no harm in pursuing both laws, if one passes first thats good, and they don’t conflict with each other.

    • One thing interesting to me about this view is that it only applies to women–who have the option of being pregnant. Men who want to be parents face no comparable “proving ground.” Something about that inequality bugs me.

      More generally, while I agree that both parenthood and pregnancy are very demanding and often selfless, they are also quite different. Which means one could want (and be quite fit for) one and not the other. Yes, there are women who don’t want to be pregnant AND will make bad parents. But there are also women who DO want to be pregnant AND will be bad parents. And there are women who DON’T want to be pregnant AND will be good parents. I suppose my point here is that if we’re worried about the capacity to parent we ought to look directly at that and not look at willingness to be pregnant as a proxy for that.

      To be clear, if there’s a woman who wants to use surrogacy because she doesn’t like the look of maternity clothes, she may also be a woman who isn’t going to be suited to parenthood. There may be some particular traits that impel her choice to use a surrogate that will also be relevant to her suitability as a parent. But I’d look for the traits and try to assess the latter directly rather than infer the latter from the former. (I say this partly because I think that motivations are rarely simply and figuring out why a woman wants to use a surrogate may often be difficult.)

      • this is getting wayoff topic, but there are some women’s whose careers are dependent on them having impeccable figures.

      • Men’s proving ground is a woman that consents to have children with them. Women even have a few months after conception to reconsider whether they want to have that particular man’s child. (And that’s something rarely discussed about abortion rights, the decision has an awful lot to do with who’s child it will be if it is born.)

        • Unless of course a man finds a consenting woman (or women) by hiring them as egg donor and surrogate, then the man doesn’t have to prove himself worthy as a parent, as long as he has about $30,000 or whatever it costs.

  6. I think there is something in the patriarchy addled brain that is disgusted with the idea of any woman taking the easy way out, even if that easy way out doesn’t harm anyone. The ideal woman is supposed to be a self-sacrificing, long suffering martyr who is dedicated to the service of family (including birth-giving) to the exclusion of everything else and without expecting anything in return.

    • well since the topic is surrogacy, i can’t say that the way out in this case doesn’t harm anyone. there is enormous potential for harm in surrogacy and even if nothing actually goes wrong, the idea that one person’s poor circumstances gives them the ethical entitlement to the use of another person’s body- well i’m just not on board with that.
      julie do you recall the israeli surrogacy policy i sent you in an email? one of the regulations was that the couple appear before an ethics committee demonstrating why they “need” surrogacy. while the existence of the committee i think is intended to prevent abuses and exploitation, (they also have to approve the surrogacy agreement, among other things), introducing the very concept of the petitioners “need” itself opens the door to abuse.

      • If one believes that there is potential for harm, then one should acknowledge that potential in both cases, but the judgmental people don’t do that. In one case they see it as a selfish woman doing it for vanity and convenience, not fear of harm potential. In the other case they see the harm potential (mostly because it is convenient to make their point, I think).

      • I should find the Israeli policy because it does raise these questions. “Need” is really a slippery concept here. Do I “need” to use a surrogate?” Why do I say so? Do I “need” to have a child? Why do I say so? Who is competent to judge our reasons for these things? I don’t mean who is competent to comment here or chat about this as a cocktail party. I mean who, as a legal matter, is competent to judge whether the need is worthy or of the right kind?

        In Baby M, William Stern “needed” to have a genetic child because most of his family had been killed in the Holocaust and he wanted to continue the genetic line. But there was nothing wrong with his sperm. He “needed” a surrogate because his wife feared the consequences of pregnancy. (The Court seemed to think her fears were somewhat overblown and irrational.) I am not comfortable saying that there’s someone with authority to decide about the legitimacy of these needs. I think we can all talk about it, all think about it, and all learn something form the questions posed. But the power to impose our choice on another person?

        • as an american, i’m with you on this julie. but israel has a much less developed tradition of individual rights,
          the idea of a committee is not unique to surrogacy, it’s seen as a solution to problems which the mainstream society finds ethically controversial. The example i’m thinking of is abortion. A woman seeking an abortion must face an ethics committee as well.
          This would be unnacceptable to me, but i don’t make the rules.

        • I’m sort of surprised this is your position. In the past you have I think taken the position that gamete donation fills a “need”, that people need that service. Just on the topic of need, since it’s not necessary to have a surrogate any more than its necessary to have donor sperm or donor eggs. How are you drawing the line and making the distinction. I’d have to dig for where you’d defended the “need” issue before. Is my recollection incorrect?

  7. Look people provide all kinds of services for others using their bodies and they do it for free and they do it for money. The law gets involved in what people do for free or for money when when the service they offer puts other people in a compromised or disadvantaged position. Murder for hire might be one such example. So might be offering to help someone run a scam victimizing elderly people out of their life savings or something. So carrying another woman’s baby is a hell of a service to offer but as long as the carrier is not victimizing either the woman or the child she delivers then it’s really nobody’s issue to worry about whether the mother wants another woman to carry her child because she is worried about getting fat or if she’s got a clotting disorder that prevents the fetus from having a good placenta (like me). As long as the mother is taking responsibility for her child when born and doing what she’s obligated to do because in the end a person with offspring is a person who reproduced – whether she had help or not she caused a person to exist. As long as she’s not ditching out on her kid like egg donors do and she takes care of that kid and gets named mother when the kid is born she’s not hurting anyone’s rights by hiring a willing gestational carrier. She’s risking a lot by allowing her genes to be handled by other people but to the best of her knowledge she’s fulfilling her parental obligations and will have dealt with a wiling carrier. Let people think the woman worried about her figure is a bad lady and the sickly woman is a good lady – ultimately neither of them is knowingly or intentionally violating anyone else’s freedom or rights.

    But a carrier that delivers an egg donor’s child is participating in something that she knows puts the person she delivers in a bad situation. There is no medically necessary reason for anyone to abandon their offspring the least they can do is go on the record in a court approved adoption. So the carrier is implicated just for being part of aiding someone in abandoning her offspring and whoever wants to raise that kid, be it the bio father or his partner is also aiding the mother in abandoning the kid. I don’t think that the process of carying another woman’s child should be outlawed nor do I think the process of donating eggs sperm or embryo’s should be outlawed because it’s all just planning and scheming and promising to do something once the kid is born and that thing is abandon offspring and lie on birth certificates pretending to be parents so THAT is the thing when they actually do that thing like not show up to take care of their kid, not be named as parents on the birth record or name themselves as a parent on the birth record – that point at which the kid exists is the point at which the kids rights are violated by the behavior of these people and so not until then is what they are doing wrong in a way that they can be stopped legally really. So the thing to do is hold people accountable for their own offspring as parents no exceptions no exemptions no contracts prior to birth enforced. If that means that people stop contracting so be it. But its not the contracts that are the problem its when they comply with the contract terms that is the problem.

    • The topic here is surrogacy where a woman is just the carrier not the egg donor. The intended parent is the genetic parent. What you’re talking about is completely different than what this piece is about.

      • Again Greg thank you for following me around and telling me if what I have to say matters or not. “The topic here is surrogacy where a woman is just the carrier not the egg donor. The intended parent is the genetic parent.”

        Now I want you Greg to pay real close attention and maybe think about this the next time you scold me for being off topic. In this post, our fearless leader, Julie, focuses heavily on the intended mother in the Baby M surrogacy case. She notes that this intended mother had MS and felt it was too dangerous for her to be pregnant. The surrogate in the Baby M case was a traditional surrogate Greg. So you are wrong. This piece is not only concerned with situations where the recipient is the genetic mother. Julie never ever limits her discussion of surrogates to just gestational carriers and in fact goes out of her way to throw in traditional surrogates and makes a special extra special effort not to draw a distinction between gestational and traditional because she likes to focus on pregnancy itself being the defining factor in motherhood rather than genetic relatedness. She’s been working through her opinions on surrogacy over the life of this blog because her inital stance was to be simply against both types because I think she might have viewed either one as child selling originally since in her view either type is the mother no matter what regardless of intention.

        So I don’t know what gave you the idea that this post was only about recipients who are genetic mothers, but your wrong. Don’t worry, I forgive you for scolding me for no danm good reason. I’m getting use to the fact you don’t know what your talking about when you put me down. It’s just kind of tedious to respond to since you commit fully to a stance without actually reading things for understanding.

        What you’re talking about is completely different than what this piece is about.”

        • Re Read the piece Marilynn. It’s about Social Surrogacy where woman who don’t want to be pregnant have a fertilized embryo of theirs implanted into another woman to carry out the pregnancy to term and give birth to a child that the genetic parents will raise. The only difference between this and what people think of as a traditional surrogacy is that there is medical reason why the genetic mother can’t carry the pregnancy to term. She is just choosing not to carry it to term.

          Julie’s point is that surrogacy itself is not medically necessary and that the term social surrogacy needs to be re evaluated. It has nothing to do with egg donation or a non genetic parent raising the child.

  8. There are women who have extreme fear of pregnancy – I’m sure there is a term for it. If they were to become pregnant vs using a surrogate or adopting – I would imagine that they would be considered to be under chronic stress throughout their pregnancy. That has a serious impact on the baby. Would that also be considered “social” surrogacy or “medically necessary”… I would also guess some may choose to not admit to that fear publicly and find a different reason why they needed a surrogate.

    I don’t know enough about surrogacy to have any hard and fast feelings on it, but I would be concerned with the separation from the surrogate mother and any impact that may have. I would hope it wouldn’t be abrupt.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s