More on Sherpas and Surrogates

I wanted to carry on a bit with the conversation I started in my last post.   What got me going was the media attention to the Sherpas who climb Mt. Everest.   It’s obviously a dangerous occupation, one that is engaged in purely for the gratification for far wealthier tourists.   There’s a general concern about whether the Sherpas (who are, as far as I can tell, all men) are paid too little for the risks they take.

By contrast, the concern with women who may be surrogates or provide eggs for ART is that they are paid too much.   You can read the last post and the accompanying comments to see more about this.   The gendered nature of the too little/too much discussion bothers me.   But there’s something else going on, too.

I know my thinking is a bit muddled here (I’m not clear in my own mind(yet?)) so let me begin by setting out another example.   Can a person donate a kidney?  I think it is widely agreed that this is okay.   But can that person be paid for a kidney?   Again, I think it is generally clear that the answer is “no.”   This is so even though paying for kidneys would clearly make more kidney’s available, which arguably is a good thing.    So there are indeed things which can be given away but not bought/sold.

A Sherpa’s labor is clearly not in this category.   It’s just labor–albeit difficult and dangerous labor.  And so we are confident it can be bought/sold and are relatively comfortable talking about prices.   The conversation readily becomes one of “are they being paid enough” and that seems pretty natural.

But, as a number of people observed in the comments (to various degrees of explicitness), with surrogates we’re on contested terrain.  For some this is not something that should be provided–except for purely altruistic reasons.  It’s like providing a kidney.  Thus NO compensation should be offered.  Any compensation is too much.    (Washington state law reflects this view.)

Now that’s an important position that we’ve discussed on this blog in the past–though not, I think, for some time.   (It is not a position I share, but that is probably obvious.)   I don’t think it is anywhere near a majority view, but it’s not hard to find folks who take this perspective.   And as I’ve been thinking about it, I’ve been wondering if this view figures into the “are surrogates paid enough” conversation in ways that tend to skew the discussion to highlight the concern about overpayment.  After all, one starts with a significant number of people who are thinking that any money is too much money.  Practically no one starts the Sherpa conversation from that stance.

The thing that makes this tricky (and leaves me feeling a bit muddled) is that you cannot separate out the issues.   As I just said, if you think payment is wrong than you are going to think that more payment is just as wrong if not worse.   (This is why I think the presence of this view skews the conversation.)   But also the “no compensation for surrogacy” view is certainly subject to a gender critique.   Here’s a thing (being pregnant) that only women can do.  It is a unique and valuable ability.   And some people want to say “oh, but you cannot sell that.”   It’s part of a larger “mystique of pregnancy” view (which in my mind harkens back to why some find social surrogacy  unacceptable.)   Certainly many would argue that, at least at times,  the “specialness” of pregnancy has historically been used to prevent women from claiming an active role in society.

I fear I’ve done little to advance things here.   Maybe I should just offer the very short version:  There are lots of people who think any compensation for surrogacy is inappropriate/immoral.   Virtually no one think this about the Sherpa’s work.   That’s part of the picture to.


84 responses to “More on Sherpas and Surrogates

  1. That was a nod to my logic. I feel happy. OK so lets be in a state where it is legal to privately contract with a woman to gestate, or reproduce and gestate. Here I know that you don’t like to differentiate between women who just gestate and those who reproduce and gestate, but as a lawyer you know that the contracts will at the very least have 2 terms to be complied with verses just one. Anyway we are in a state that allows women to privately contract to do this. So she sets her price for this service and that is that. I don’t see a problem with this. It’s no different than using her body to type or screw or argue a case in front of a judge. She’s not employed for a company, she’s working for herself and she’ll charge whatever the market will bear. She’s in business for herself. She needs an attorney and an accountant, she needs some sort of liability insurance to protect her from being sued in the event some negligent act prevents her from completing the act of gestation. She needs to be clear she’s not providing a warranty on a product, that sort of thing. It’s really up to her to run her business if this is what she wants to do for a living. It would be like starting any business. To do it smart she’d need capital. No that is not how its being done currently. But we need to pick a side here if we are going to argue they need higher pay, that is entirely up to them. They are not employees of a company so they cannot unionize. If you are worried that they are being exploited like say textile workers or illegal aliens working for a chicken processing plant you have to realize that those people are employed by companies that are in most cases violating the law on any number of levels. Private homes that hire domestic workers and pay under the table screw over their workers a lot as well. That’s what you get when you take an under the table job. Your not dealing with someone who wants to play by the rules, they want to cut corners, save a few bucks, don’t be surprised if they screw you and leave you with nobody to turn to for help because you too were looking to save a few bucks on taxes and fly under the radar.

    So forgetting the people that think it should never be paid for. If it can be paid for, what are you looking for in terms of equitable or fair pay? Sure its dangerous, but they’ve already got medical coverage in case they get hurt. You want workman’s comp? Not as an independent contractor. We could pass a law that requires life insurance or some kind of special insurance. Would that satisfy you? You want to set a minimum wage? They are in business for themselves they have to set their rate and decide what services they can afford to comp and and its totally up to them. I don’t see them as exploited any more than anyone running any other business. In this country here in the U.S. they are not or should not be minors. They should have the capacity to contract and, frankly its up to them to cover their butts. In other countries where people live in abject poverty and might be inclined to sign up for this sort of thing for a pittance of pay… What if the U.S. passed a law that U.S. Citizens contracting for surrogacy in other countries would not be able to bring the child back into the U.S. unless they proved compliance with U.S. laws making sure they were of legal age and they had a life insurance policy and medical care etc etc. I mean even in other countries, they are independent contractors setting their own rates. People go over seas for this service for the same reason my company was contracting out drafting work to a team in India, its cheaper. Although frought with problems and metric conversions and we had to hold meetings in the middle of the night – but its a free country, you can look abroad for cheaper labor. There is no constituency back home to boycot products not made in the U.S. the buyer is the consumer.

    What policy changes are you looking for? Again what the heck do Sherpa’s have to do with this? If they want more money they should charge more. Band together like the airlines and raise their prices. Their jobs don’t require medical care. They’re hazardous like firemen and policemen and there is a better chance of getting hurt than if your a computer programmer. But police and firemen are employees and Sherpa’s are self employed. I just want to understand or see you develop this concern about surrogates being exploited and think about what we can do to address those concerns. Where there is smoke there is fire. I’m sure you are correct something is amiss. Not sure its misogynistic but we’ll see and if it is then maybe some discrimination policy will apply.

  2. “As I just said, if you think payment is wrong than you are going to think that more payment is just as wrong if not worse. ”

    As one who think payment is wrong, I disagree with this logic. This is because I don’t believe that payment is wrong for its own sake, its wrong because it is likely creating an industry that exploits poor women.

    If no money is offered, we can be sure folks are in it for altruistic reasons.

    Paying very large sums of money, adding in life insurance and things like that, is one way to OFFSET the exploitation, at least in part.

    Paying a very small amount- thats exactly the exploitation we were afraid of in the first place.

    And hypocritical folks who call it “payment for expenses” thats just word games, because the surrogate doesn’t generally undertake 20k worth of expenses. (That would be a really expensive taxi ride to the dr wouldn’t it).

    • right. its not like they are turning in receipts. If it was really reimbursement for expenses it would not be taxed as income. So it’s bull to say its for expenses and they should just, you know, stfu with that.

    • Fair point. poor reasoning on my part.

      In fact, it seems that one could think that payment is wrong and that low payment is even worse. or one could think that payment is wrong and that high payment is worse. The latter position seems to me really problematic but the one you espouse here seems to me to be fairly reasonable, actually. Again, my apologies and thanks for catching me.

  3. i realize that Sherpa is the name of their ethnicity and not of their job (first i thought it might have something to do with climbing in another language….). Is it appropriate then to use this name to describe them? we wouldn’t say “the blacks” or “the jews” would we?

    • I thought it meant mountain tour guide.

    • I suppose the profession is “porter?” But being a porter on Mt. Everest has been so identified with this particular group that I think that ‘”Sherpa” has come to be the job title, too. So I’m not sure the analogy you draw works. Still, I will try to talk about “Sherpas who work as porters” in the future. That may be an excess of caution, but surely that’s better than giving offense.

  4. Julie,

    I am opposed to people being able to buy and sell organs – it’s a market ripe for corruption, and ties into Black Market activities that actually do or have happened.

    Back in the 1955 only 34 states had laws on the books that made it illegal to sell babies. Black market Adoptions was a booming business and no way for officials to stop the madness and harm that was happening in so many states. Babies should never, ever, be for sale. History is there for a reason, to teach us what can happen if you go down that slippery slope where anything you desire can be bought.

    In surrogacy an expectant mother is NOT disabled (generally) and should not be compensated simply for time spent being pregnant. I do think there are expenses that should be covered, medical care, time off work for medical reasons, delivery, recovery, travel, etc.. I think the same should apply to donating a kidney, part of your liver, etc.. Unless you limit it – you have to accept that the rich will be able to use (and possibly abuse, or harm) the poor – that is to me, morally repugnant.

    • Sperm and egg and embryo donation is just a cover for black market adoption. They agree in advance to conceal the bio parent’s identity and then when the kid’s born the bio parent makes good on the promiseto abandon their child which gives the step parent the opportunity to write their name down on the birth record instead of going to court for a real adoption. Total black market adoption

      • I don’t really want to rekindle this debate (because we’ve been round it a lot and it generally doesn’t go very far in the end). But it seems to me that your statement about the black market for adoption is premised on your assumption that the egg donor/sperm donor are actually giving up some sort of parental right. If I don’t share that assumption (and as you know I don’t) then your statement isn’t an accurate description of what is happening.

        • Then the content of their contracts related to parental rights and obligations should be eliminated leaving only custody of the gamete at issue and not the disposition of any resulting offspring. They should not be discussed at all in fact. There should be no assumption that the person giving up the cells is giving up parental rights or responsibilities for their own offspring. Just the gametes, not even what they are allowed to do with the gametes. They just get to have them and do nothing with them.

    • I’m fascinated by the 1955 statistic you quote. Was it legal to sell babies in the other 16 states or had it just not been formally criminalized? (A lot of things that were common-law crimes weren’t covered by criminal statutes but were nonetheless crimes.)

      In any event, I assume there is little argument about buying/selling children–save for the occasional academic economist. The tricky part might be figuring out when it is happening. You can offer money to a surrogate and call it compensation or you can call it a stipend for expenses or you can call it a gift, I suppose. Depending on circumstances and conditions I think different people will understand it differently.

      • I think no one ever thought people would sell babies. I’ve read quite a bit of the Kefauver Subcommittee Hearings – most of the mothers were under 20 so fell into the Congressional Juvenile Delinquency Hearings. They happened across the country, I’ve found them for Alabama, Florida and Illinois. Senator Kefauver was an adoptive parent and Senator Thye as well. The one linked below is Illinois. My best guess is that these hearing initiated ICPC requirements because one a baby crossed state lines there was no way to prosecute as it wasn’t a federal crime and one state couldn’t get another state to cooperate. State wise, there was no law on the books in many states making it illegal to sell a baby – they would get babies from one state and take them to a state without a law – a thriving business in black market adoption.

        Small quote about that below and then the link.

        Page 11…
        “Mr. Mitler. As a result of these investigations, I learned a very graphic and important point in the local State laws. I should say, as you have already stated. Senator, there is no Federal law making it a crime to place out children across State lines. In other words, you can sell a child across State lines and it is not a Federal crime.”

        “Now, Mr. Fullmer, would you please bring up that chart? This graph has been drawn up and it shows 34 States where there is no criminal law against baby selling. I think there is one error in that chart and that pertains to the State of Illinois. I believe that the State of Illinois’ last legislative body has passed a bill making it a crime. […]”
        there are other options I think for downloading to your reader. It’s fascinating reading, so many names still known today in adoption circles for the bad things they did. This link even has testimony about the baby trade from Montreal. There were some really bad people and people who stood up and said no more. I have a couple posts about it if you search Kefauver you should find them – but they only cover snippets. Next quiet rainy day – you might be interested in having a look at the link – it is family law.

        • I had my numbers reversed – if you include the recently passed law in Illinois 1955 then 33 states had no laws on the books making it illegal to sell a baby. The number that did would be 15 as there were only 48 states.

  5. For Julie and anyone who is interested
    bunch of stuff here from the government that should help you define exactly what it is that is unfair about the surrogate situation with regard to money

  6. Just thinking about the debates in the UK about paying/compensating donors, there’s a definite gender gap. Women are expected to be donating for altruistic reasons and people are very uncomfortable if they express a desire for money. This is even more obvious in the US where, despite the presence of a substantial incentive well over and above the cost of donating and recovery, women still feel the need (and are expected to) say they are doing it because they care about the infertile couple. The language used is all about gift-giving based on emotion.

    Nobody asks men that stuff, or expects them to express care or compassion or even interest in the couple – actually that’s thought of as slightly odd or threatening. Most sperm donors I’ve talked to do donate for compassionate reasons, though. Often the compensation they’re given doesn’t cover their costs and it’s common enough for them to refuse to accept it. It’s rarely acknowledged though. Interestingly enough there was a lot of concern that when the law changed in 2005 so that donors became identifiable when the dc person reached 18, the number of sperm donors would drop completely. In fact that hasn’t happened at all, which is interesting in itself.

    I think self interest and selfishness in general is tolerated far more in men, to the point where we simply don’t hear or describe an act of genuine kindness from a man as such even though when a woman does it, she’s an ‘angel’. For women it’s the opposite – it’s demanded of us. This is one of the reasons the issue of compensation for donation/surrogacy is so fraught. I don’t think donation should be paid, but I do think all related expenses should be covered, without question.

    • A person can pay money for another person’s egg, sperm, embryo, lung, or kidney but it does not really make that tissue theirs. It will always belong to the person it came from and according to our anatomical gift act here in the states, the donor has the right to change their mind and withdraw consent at any time unless their tissue has actually been implanted into someone else’s body. In that case the organ is really in use by that other person, but it cannot truthfully be referred to as their lung; we get all the body parts we are going to get at birth and when we use them up, ours are gone and we borrow someone else’s but they interestingly remain coded to the body they came from despite being transplanted. It’s like a vin number on an auto part. Anyway the donor can technically withdraw consent, it’s your body and your reproductive freedom always nobody could buy that from you. I think it is for this reason why it cannot be classified as property and so it must be referred to as a gift or donation, leaving the donor their rightful control over what happens to their body parts, even body parts that are no longer attached. So technically, a donor is either being reimbursed for their direct expenses or they are being paid a fee for the performance of services, not as an employee but as an independent contractor.

      So are you saying that you are against providing egg/sperm donors with a fee to perform additional services requested/required of them after their eggs or sperm are harvested? You said you think they should absolutely get their expenses covered which I agree with totally. If you were drafting a new law how would you make sure that the money really was a reimbursement for their direct expenses rather than a fee charged for providing services required of them under contract? I can see where it would be reasonable to reimburse them train fair or parking fees if they provided receipts, absolutely.

      Here they claim that the money they receive in part compensates them for lost wages from time off work. That is the biggest load of crap. If they do this on their paid vacation, there are no wages lost so the money they receive for this is in addition to the check they’ll get for weeks worked while on vacation. If they do this over an unpaid vacation then they are not out any wages because they were not scheduled to work anyway and then they are still earning money for working rather than being reimbursed for something lost. They also don’t require any kind of proof of wages lost or pay rate here in the U.S. Its a total sham. We even have egg donors here who are mad they have to claim it as income and pay tax on it. It’s ridiculous. Either its money paid back for direct expenses or they are full of hot air just call it a fee for services rendered and pay taxes on it and be done with it. There are 18+ years worth of services to be performed by gamete donors and they have to agree to do all those various things to be compensated and so call it that would be fine and set the fee or make them turn in receipts is how i think it should work.

    • There’s a discussion on the blog a while back of the work of Rene Almeling. You can find some if it here. She writes about some of these questions.

      I wonder about how the observations you offer might be changing. For instance, I have heard that as it becomes more common for donor identities to be made available to children, there are changes in the pool of men willing to donate. Those willing to be identified are older and more likely to speak of altruistic impulses. All in all much to think about.

  7. Julie,
    “A Sherpa’s labor is clearly not in this category. It’s just labor–albeit difficult and dangerous labor.”

    My thoughts are also muddled on this subject, but:

    Does the labour of reproduction count as labor?

    Why is reproductive labor separated out from other ideologies concerning work? Why is it not seen as “real” work?

    Why are women, as a class, expected to perform unpaid labor that is critical to the health of society and the state of national economies?

    Why is that labor routinely devalued?

    Some other thoughts:
    Citizenship, it seems to me, is largely about one’s ability to access things: Can one access first class transportation? Can one access the political system?

    To what degree is one paid or recognized for one’s labour? Can one access the economy? Or is one isolated from it in various ways — ideologically or otherwise?

    Women’s work has been ideologically isolated from the economy since the early 19th-century in the United States. Colonial farmers and planters recognized the necessities of women’s productive and reproductive work — although women were exploited, and their work was not appreciated in terms of wages or in other economic terms.

    In fact, the wages of wives were owned by the estate of their husband until reforms were made in the married women’s property acts. But in the colonial era, the necessity of reproductive and productive women’s work was not denied, and its place in the household economy (and the larger GDP) was obvious.

    In the 21st century, women’s reproductive work is unrecognized and ideologically isolated from conceptions of the larger economy. Traditional forms of women’s work (child care) is devalued and underpaid. This situation exists despite the fact that women’s reproductive work (pregnancy and child care) is a critical part of the economy. A new generation of workers and consumers are, of course, necessary for a strong economy.

    Despite these facts, the many costs of pregnancy and child care have been “privatized” by the society. Until Obamacare, private insurance companies did not have to offer pregnancy coverage, and the medical costs of pregnancy itself was unaffordable to many.

    Some final questions that come to mind:

    When are certain classes of people not allowed to donate blood?

    In particular, what does the ban on gay blood tell us about concepts of who can be defined as a “productive” member of society?

    When certain classes of bodies are isolated and patrolled in particular ways, what political work is performed by this isolation?

    • I do not believe pregnancy counts as labor, it is a physical condition. As for women’s traditional unpaid labor, I would say that it is childcare, housekeeping, and more often than not, elder care, and care of disabled family members.

      • I find this point of view interesting. Birth is actually called labor — yet it’s discounted as such.

        The body is working to build — to produce a potential person — and the gestation places significant strain on the body in order to do so.

        Pregnancy is the act of gestating, which is bodily work. It’s not the body in stasis.

        • the body is never in stasis while alive. pregnancy is no different in that regard.

          • ok.

            I think pregnancy and child care are both acts of re-production (production) that add value to the economy and society.

            It sounds, unless I’m mistaken, that this is a point of intellectual difference.

            • Why would you consider child care a reproductive act when it can and is done by a multitude of others post birth and not done at all pre-birth.

              I agree that child care is too low paid however I can’t afford to pay much more for it. But reproduction is done for ones own body. You are not producing children for the government. The product of conception, gestation and childbirth is a free human being. Ultimately, yes that free human being will become a working, contributing member of society. Yes adding people to the economy has all sorts of positive and negative economic impacts but to think of someone being paid to do it is to say they are producing a product for sale rather than producing a human free in their own right and not born to a particular service or duty.

              Pregnancy care is just healthcare for individuals and the U.S. offers this for women and most employers do as well so in that regard women are protected and gestation is not devalued. Child care is for the child not for the mother and father. Its because the child needs to be cared for not because its compensation for having produced a child.

    • i wonder whether players in the reproductive business feel a need to demonstrate altruism because otherwise they know deep down there is something dirty about it. or at least they expect to get such a reaction from society

      • Nope I just figured it out. They frame surrogacy as altruistic and just reimbursement for expenses because they don’t pay taxes on the money they’re given even though they actually contracted for the performance of various services, they are slipping through undetected for the money they receive from their private clients. The contract is essentially the same as you’d have with a contractor for remodeling your kitchen only she’s not a business with a tax ID and neither is the person contracting her so it’s easy to skate under the radar and easier still if she just cashes the checks and spends the money. If the payments are small enough and she’s smart enough not to deposit the money nobody will ever know she’s earning it. Framing the whole deal as altruistic and money as reimbursement for expenses keeps it totally off the books.

        Julie might be upset and want to draw attention to how little they are paid for their hazardous work but you can bet you won’t see them unionizing and seeking a higher hourly wage and hazard pay. If they are making $30 grand they are keeping $30 grand which would be $15 grand if taxed.

      • Surrogacy agencies have to claim their income for hooking up people with surrogates though. But the agency does not cut the check to the surrogate the contracting party does.

    • Tess and Julie, it is not ” devalued “. Name another “Job” or even “service” where the service is always going to REQUIRE medical professionals to give you care even when nothing is going wrong. People pay top dollar for a surrogacy they don’t want a home birth where if something goes wrong the kid might die on the way to the hospital. There are routine medical check ups and probably about $30 K in medical bills for a perfectly normal non high risk pregnancy a low tech birth. The closest I can come up with is a volunteer research subject, male or female. How is it devalued exactly.

      It would be impossible for anyone to have a company who puts women on the payroll to carry and deliver babies. Why? For starters if you were to classify pregnancy as work as labor an employer would be shut down in a matter of weeks because it was not giving employees mandatory breaks to rest every few hours or breaks for meals – heck they can’t even quit performing that job at the end of 8 hours if you call it work then they are working 24 hours a day 7 days a week and that would be illegal to have an employee do that. How would you give them their vacation time? How would you sort out workman’s comp injuries on the job when the whole job involves getting into a condition that requires medical care according to virtually all surrogacy or gestaional carrier contracts. There are myriad practical reasons why we just cannot call pregnancy work or labor its a somewhat debilitating temporary physical condition when all goes off without a hitch but can be deadly if things in the body or the environment are imperfectly calibrated. The best you can get is to call it contract performance and let her set her fee.

    • What you were saying about gay people not being allowed to donate blood and being treated different – Its just like that for donor offspring and for their bio parents who are absent and for all their relatives. You finally get it. Differential treatment says something about a person’s value to society. Interestingly sometimes I think fewer rights means more important because they have to exert extra control over that class of people or they would not perform as expected. Their roll to perform is critical, their posts must be filled they have a defined value and as such have reduced freedoms. Or different rules for them than for others.

      • Donors and donor offspring have a very specific job to perform and a very specific value to society

      • Please excuse my comments, which were early thoughts and not phrased in a comprehensible manner. My thoughts failed to communicate my meaning effectively.

    • Oh, these are such good questions. It seems very clear that, as you say, historically women’s labor has often been undervalued or devalued entirely. That, to my mind, is not exactly chance. And it is impossible for me not to have that history in mind as I look at surrogacy. On the other hand, the nature of the labor involved in pregnancy is unlike anything else.

      There are many larger questions here–many that you raise. I wonder if we have to be able to answer them before we can say what we should do about compensated surrogacy. I rather hope not or I fear we won’t be addressing surrogacy anytime soon. Which is not to say they question aren’t important. Just that they are deep and difficult.

      • We’re in something of a Catch-22 situation in terms of compensated surrogacy, because it’s difficult to know how to step outside of the framework of late modern (transnational) capitalism.

        If capitalism is more then an economic system — if it’s a system that organizes not just the economic world, but also the social and the political/legal systems — then the logic of that world seems to suggest payment as compensation.

        Paid compensation for gestational surrogacy fits within the logic of the world that presently exists.

        I’m wary of waged compensation as it’s a perpetuation of the overall system. Yet, our lives are organized by this system. So, it leaves me without a satisfying answer.

        I’d like to be able to imagine a world, as you mentioned in your comment below, where social reproductive work is, truly, recognized and prioritized.

  8. Let me be clear:

    I view reproduction (gestation and child care) as acts necessary to the economy and society.

    When I say that reproduction (gestation and child care) is devalued labour, I mean that society does not recognize reproductive acts as worthy of value. Many societies give little or nothing of value in exchange for acts of reproduction.

    Reproduction (gestation and child care) has been de-valued or unrecognized when compared to other acts of production. It is not recognized as an act of production that is necessary to the economy and society.

    I am not suggesting that society should recognize the value of reproduction in any particular way. I am, however, asserting that there is a world-wide issue with the de-valuation and non-recognition of reproductive labor.

    Waged labour does not have to be the way society recognizes valued work. Paid maternal leave, low-cost or free child care, and mother’s pensions are three examples of ways that society could recognize the value of reproductive work.

    In the USA, there is no compensated maternal or paternal leave. Child care is a bit more valued in Canada, which gives a year of paid leave. Quebec values reproduction more highly then the rest of Canada, and offers government funded, low-cost child care.

    Sweden is more willing then most countries to offer value in exchange for acts of reproduction. These are some examples of the ways a country might offer value in exchange for reproductive acts.

    • A final note:

      Even in nations where there is more value offered in exchange for reproductive acts — there is still a tendency to not recognize or under-recognize the significant value reproductive acts contribute to the economy and society.

      • We don’t value things we (generally) get for free. For millenia women have been providing reproduction and family care for free. It is only in the past few decades that they even have a choice (sometimes, not always) in the matter. The social mindset has not changed much though. For most people, the expectation is still there that this is something they should get for free. It is interesting though that sometimes economists will discuss fertility and it’s impact on the economy and various ways to increase it when it is too low.

        • It is also interesting that the incentive that various governments offer to increase fertility rates are so pathetic that they barely make a dent.

        • This is a great point. I think it is right that we don’t value things we get for free–see, e.g. clean air? It makes me think, too, about the social function of romantic views of motherhood. What better way to ensure free child-care than to endow caring for a child with a mystique and meaning that transcends all other experience?

      • I strongly disagree that child care is part of reproduction. people care for children they have not reproduced, all the time. Some even do it as paid labor- like nannies, nurses, or teachers.
        I agree that women who are reproducing are by and large, serving society (of course dependent on how that particular society sees its demographic needs) and yet are placed at an economic disadvantage because of it which is unfair. I believe society could choose to rectify that disadvantage. There is nothing wrong, for this purpose, in including pregnancy into the dominant economic paradigm of our society, the “work” paradigm, despite it not being actual work. But it would be wrong to therefore deduce that it is the same thing as any other kind of work and create other laws based on that assumption (like surrogacy).
        I might also add that declaring pregnancy to be work would also not be the most effective means of rectifying the balance, since the bulk of economic displacement occurs once the kid is born, due to child care. I think child care qualifies uniquivocally as work, so to create a whole tortuous formula childcare equals reproduction which equals work is superfluous.
        I might also add that children aren’t the only ones who require care; care of the elderly and disabled also falls disproportionately on women (as far as i know, feel free to correct me if i am wrong) and as long as it is being done for someone in the family, is not economically rewarded either. Classifying reproduction as work does nothing to rectify the balance over here.

        • “I strongly disagree that child care is part of reproduction. ”
          I agree

        • Excuse the miscommunication. Feminist theorists will often use the word reproduction to refer to both biological and social reproduction.

          This is a messy and quick, but, briefly:

          The question discussed would be, “How is the labor force/ adult citizenry/ consumer population reproduced? And who bears the cost of that reproduction?”

          As the population ages, the labor force must be replaced if the economy is to sustain itself. And, of course, who will take care of the elderly if there are no new people born into the world?

          “Some even do it as paid labor- like nannies, nurses, or teachers”

          Yes – all part of social reproduction, and it is often undervalued and under compensated, as is any work associated with the “traditional” work of mothers.

          • what is social reproduction?

          • if referring to social reproduction, i would not use the term “reproduction” alone because reproduction without any qualifiers means biological reproduction.

            • ps nurse’s salaries compare very well to other professions with the same level of education.

            • “because reproduction without any qualifiers means biological reproduction.”

              Yes. I understand that is what it means to you, and you were unfamiliar with the other usage. That is why we had a miscommunication issue.

          • One can (barely?) imagine a world where the value of preparing the next generation to take their place in the world is fully appreciated. That might well be a world where all those who work with the young (teachers, nurses, child care workers, etc.) commanded top dollar. It might be a world where the aspiration to be a teacher or to be a nanny or to be an involved parent was understood to be one of the most respected aspirations. And it’s not a crazy idea–what is more important, in the long run, than raising our children and helping them find their place? We all have an interest in this being done well.

            But look how clever we humans are–we’ve managed to get this critical work done (although perhaps not always as well as we might like) at a cut rate. We’ve managed to persuade lots of people to do this work for low pay or, better still, no pay.

            I don’t think we need to quibble about the word “reproduction”–though the concept of social reproduction is a well-established one. To me what is key is seeing that there are a host of things that must be done in order to keep society going. This includes raising, educating and socializing children–no matter how they are produced.

            Perhaps it’s a bit beyond the blog’s scope but I think the compensation point takes us up to the edge.

            • Completely agree when it comes to people paid to care for and teach other people’s kids. They deserve a higher wage for sure. When you raise the issue of those “working for free” they are not actually working for free. They are earning and if married have a right to half the earnings of the person who is out there in the work force earning a check that will be used to pay for the care-giver’s share of rent, bills, food for him/herself as well as his/her share of the food and other consumables used in the care of their joint dependent (could be a child could be an elderly parent). At some point a meeting of the minds occurred where one person a greed to stay home and give care to a dependent, giving up the independence that comes with earning their own paycheck and they put their total trust in their spouse or partner not to gyp them and get chintzy with their share of left over cash on pay day. The wage earner had to agree to split his/her earnings with the giver of care. In reality they both are earning about half what they would on their own but they share expenses and share the burden of providing care for their dependent so they cut a deal. I don’t see this as anyone devaluing their labor. A caregiver that feels they are giving their care away for free need only look around and realize they have their room and board and bills and everything else covered. That is their money and they are choosing to spend it on rent and food and bills. It’s hard these days for two people to live on one pay check. That is the unfortunate outcome of women entering the work force. Now employers assume that two people will be working so a clerk at the market can’t afford to have their partner stay home with the kids, both now have to work just to pay the rent and they scrape out a pittance for some poorly paid child care worker. It’s fantastic that women now have the opportunity to atain equal pay for equal work – it’s also just fair. But “they don’t pay a man enough to support his family” any more and so both parties in a couple must work just to cover the bills usually.

              Your post had nothing to do with caregiving really. More to do with surrogacy and inadequate payment.

        • If anyone is interested in a background discussion of reproduction/ production and feminist theory – here’s a video of several feminists discussing “Feminisms on the Left” at New York’s New School. See in particular Nancy Fraser’s discussion. She starts at about 32 minutes.

          • I’ll watch it but I’d be more interested in what exactly you want to change, Julie too. I love change in general. Things are all sorts of messed up but who is it that you think is not paying women enough to get pregnant and deliver children. Healthcare and day care are totally separate issues.

          • If they’re so concerned about class they can avoid inventing new terminology to mystify the illiterate masses such as myself. and lord i don’t even want to think how much they got paid to sit there and philosophize.

            • ok. sorry I linked. I didn’t think it would offend you.

              • you did nothing wrong, i’m just not a fan of academic theorisizing. i like julie’s blog because although she is academic its still down to earth and actually has some meaning for those of us outside the academic clique.

    • The paid leave in Canada is part of the employment insurance scheme. To the best of my knowledge, you must actually be employed to receive it. Included in that act, is that your employment with your company you are on leave from – is secure for you to return too. The leave is broken down into two parts, one is for recovery (6 weeks?) and the other is for caring for the child because it’s hard to find daycare for babies under 12 months. The latter can be taken by the father, not just the mother. Canada also has a monthly stipend – originally called a baby bonus – it’s not much but helps and is not tied to whether or not you were employed.

    • I find your phrasing very interesting. You say society gives nothing in exchange for acts of reproduction. Giving someone something in support of their healthcare is good for society because people are not sick and can therefore work and produce products are part of the Gross national product and global economy. Pregnant women need healthcare and when they get it, it is not in exchange for their babies. it’s just for them to keep them healthy and otherwise productive.
      Parents may receive help with child care costs but its not in exchange for their children, its because the children need care. You almost make it seem like you think the government should be buying babies from people and raising them on work farms or something.

    • Tess are you just talking about the fact that traditionally men worked and women took care of the kids and received no cash money for it? Is all this just a nod of respect to the hard work it is to bear and raise kids? Absolutely no question agreed. Of course. But do remember that they are not producing and teaching their offspring or the offspring of others for anyone else or themselves – they do it because they are responsible for them since they caused their dependency. When you talk about society valuing women’s contribution are you meaning just in terms of societal respect or do you mean that you think they should be paid by someone? If so by whom and if so what is it you think that person should be getting in return for having paid them? There is no way they could be employees because it is impossible to rest or take a break. i simply has to be performed as a contract service if it is to be compensated at all. And still I think the question has to be what services is it that they are being paid for? In your points Tess you have focused not only on lack of respect for reproduction and gestation but also the rearing and teaching of minors. Rearing and teaching of minors as a parental responsibilities is covered in their contracts as something they agree not to do and the contracts stipulate whether they are to abandon or relinquish responsibilities at birth. Sometimes they will say abandon, and that they promise to relinquish in court if the agreement is challenged as illegal. Generally the agreements also talk about the extent to which her gestational roll and/or genetic kinship will be kept secret or open and sets forth the duration of the agreement which is usually until the death of either the surrogate/egg donor or child which ever is later. So those terms to be fulfilled after birth are not reproductive in the medical sense but I suppose they would be socially reproductive yet in the negative. Like being paid not to plant crops or something she’s being paid not to do that thing you note as so vital to the economy etc.

      If all you meant was that having and raising children is critical to keeping the whole system held together yes for sure. It just was starting to sound like you felt women should actually be compensated for reproducing which of course puts someone in a position of getting something for their money. The people women create and teach are not created or taught to serve anyone’s purpose other than their own and in so doing happen to contribute to the global economy. But their purpose is not to do so in such a way that the government owns us. I sure hope not anyway. That would really bring Greg’s fears to the forefront where people who could not reproduce would not be paid would not be considered valuable and then just be brushed away. I’m totally against such a thing and find the concept of compensating good reproductive people gross but believe a strong infrastructure that supports families with dependent individuals to be vital for a healthy economy.

      • Please excuse me, but it appears I have not explained adequately and I am unable to communicate my meaning.

        I was not suggesting a policy proscription. I was sharing early evaluative thoughts, large-scale. I do not understand the problems sufficiently to offer a solution.

        Nancy Fraser discusses the issues I am unable to communicate in the link. Her talk starts at about 34 minutes in.

        Fraser has offered broad suggestions of how to approach the problem in some newspaper articles and on the web. However, her suggestions are not narrow and specific, so you may be disappointed.

  9. Woah so I am having a revelation about the mind set of people who think laws about gamete donation are fair to their offspring. Ya’ll think of human beings as products of manufacture. Straight up. You think people ought to be paid high wages for producing human products for sale in the global market. I’m not sure who you think should be doing the paying – the government? Private parties? Companies?

    I can see institutional investment in breeding Olympians for instance and the parents should be paid to produce Olympic quality athletes to represent the U.S. and that will be those people’s purpose from birth. Microsoft could pay its current staff to reproduce and they would then own the rights to those people when born and those people would be educated to perform work for Microsoft. Everyone born not free with a purpose to perform because their parents accepted payment for creating them. Now go off and pretend to be someone else’s child or go off and work in the field for a corporate farm. Each type of paid procreation would be different. Created differently. Resulting in different rights for different people so that all men were no longer created equal, but rather created to serve a particular purpose. How super efficient. Well, so long as nobody is harmed physically its fine right?

    • great point.

      • the whole lingo is objectifying

        • ok. My original comment was for Julie. Please don’t feel obliged to respond to any comments that are uninteresting to you.

          If I had known you were uninterested, I would not have bothered to find the link or clarify the usage of the word.

          • Just to be clear, my comments were misunderstood, in a fairly drastic way. It would be a error to assume the above characterization is my position or the position of any of the individuals to whom I linked.

            I’m sure this miscommunication is due to my errors, and mine alone.

            Cheers, and have a good night.

          • No, Tess I find it fascinating. I don’t feel obliged I feel compelled to comment and question – that’s the point right? To bring up points that stir the pot and make people think. Your fantastic at that I assure you. If you wanted to have a private conversation with the professor you would call her up or send an email.

            • Marilynn,

              The first two speakers are more inaccessible to a general audience, but Nancy Fraser starts at about 33 minutes in the above link. She’s quite engaging.

              I believe she also discusses social reproduction at the beginning of this talk:

              You also asked about a policy proscription or a solution. I am not wise enough to offer a solution to the crises of late modern capitalism and the transnational economy. In general, I am wary of waged work as a solution for the devaluation of care work.

              Before one can offer a solution, one needs to understand the problem. I would need a much better understanding of the issues, and the magnitude of the problems, before I could offer concrete solutions. But, a start might be Nancy Fraser’s following proposal:

              “First, we might break the spurious link between our critique of the family wage and flexible capitalism by militating for a form of life that de-centres waged work and valorises unwaged activities, including – but not only – carework. Second, we might disrupt the passage from our critique of economism to identity politics by integrating the struggle to transform a status order premised on masculinist cultural values with the struggle for economic justice. Finally, we might sever the bogus bond between our critique of bureaucracy and free-market fundamentalism by reclaiming the mantle of participatory democracy as a means of strengthening the public powers needed to constrain capital for the sake of justice.”


              • I had to read that a few times to catch her drift. I think she just means attitude adjustment; that everyone needs to realize how important that work is even though they are not pulling a salary for waged work themselves.

                Agreed. I’d add that where care giving is waged it is at a very low rate and taking care of children is a very critical job. They hold the future in their hands. Which may well be the only point you or she is driving at.

                When it is unwaged and done out of responsibility for one’s own offspring or adopted kids though, if you were to frame it in terms of economics, the adult doing the unwaged care giving is not doing that in a vacuum – someone else is working and supporting them and the person or people they are caring for in order that they can do the unpaid care giving. They are earning the equivalent of half the cash for the house payment and bills and food and savings and earning the cash for their own food as well as half the cash for the food of the person they are taking care of. The wage earner agrees to not keep all his cash to himself in order to get help with his or her responsibility for taking care of the home and any dependents, the caregiver agrees to forgo a job and wages that would give him or her independence, putting their total trust in the wage earner that they will not begrudge them any cash when needed. terrifying, but the alternative is having a stranger care for your kids while you work – equally terrifying.

                I agree care giving could use a PR campaign. Maybe Julie was thinking along those lines when she did this post. Like why are the guys with the dangerous jobs getting sympathy for so little pay when surrogates jobs are way more dangerous. And maybe your comments align with Julies post more than I thought they did originally. I do see where she and you were going with this now that I’ve had time to think about it. It does not change my thinking though that if we sit down and try to think about what would need to be done to get the surrogates more money compared to doing the same for the Sherpas you just end up in different places. The surrogates are trying to make what they do sound like its altruistic and that the money they receive is to cover expenses. I think they are very pointedly doing that because they avoid having that money taxed. I don’t think we will see the Surrogates rise up and demand higher wages. They might well start increasing the amount they ask for reimbursable expenses though. It’s really all in their hands. Nobody can fight for higher wages for them unless they are employed by a company. If they are setting their own rates they could start a campaign to raise public awareness of the dangers and increase their fees uniformly like an airline b ut then they’d be calling attention to the money they were earning – and would not have the receipts to prove it was reimbursement rather than income. We saw it with the egg donor case recently and those women know full well they’ll be taxed on that income they sign a form saying they understand it is taxable income and must be reported. That donor who is fighting it is playing on the whole reimbursement for altruism thing . Its easier with surrogates since their checks are not cut by a company that reports payments as part of their expenses.

                I’m sorry Tess I see your point and Julies better now its just I’m looking at the topic of this post and thinking about how to resolve Julie’s concerns in practical terms. Everything you guys said holds together for me in theory but falls apart when I look at how it would actually work with the money. I’m fix it oriented.

            • yeah never mind me and my issues. i didn’t actually watch the clip, because it was too long. commenting on the written review.

  10. The U.S. has a particularly bad maternal leave situation in comparison to other first world countries. People outside the US are aware of the lack of universal health care, because it is a scandalous and well-publicized situation.

    But women in other countries are often unaware of the lack of paid maternity/parental leave in the U.S.

    In talking with people in other countries, women have asked me, “But what do they do with the babies?”

    • I had paid maternity leave, everyone does, men too. It’s not as long as other countries but it exists. 3 months paid leave. You go on disability.

      • not all employers provide disability, and those who do, may not do it for a full three months.

        • Lame. I did not know. It was my understanding it’s federal family leave act Ki. I’ll look it up.

        • employers do for employees. It’s the law. There are contract positions where you are not actually an employee but are working charging a fee, in those situations you are responsible for yourself

      • Would that this was true, but I’m fairly sure this isn’t. Most women cannot take disability for three months after an ordinary pregnancy/delivery and no men can. And that’s beyond many employers not providing any disability.

        Most employees in the US do not get paid leave to care for a newborn child or an newly adopted child–the most they will be able to take is unpaid leave–which is to say they can take leave and come back to their jobs. But even that is hardly guaranteed. Washington State has fairly strong law on this and there’s no obligation for paid during leave. See

        • So basically I was lucky to be in California, it’s not federal the federal is 12 weeks unpaid. Wow. Sad.

  11. Federal gives 12 weeks unpaid my sate gives 4 weeks paid before birth and 6 weeks paid after birth. You have to have a job in order to be given the disability. They don’t just pay you as an atta-girl thanks for producing we value your contribution to the global economy. There is welfare for unemployed women who gave birth.

    • i dont think disability payments is required of employers in new york

      • I have these opinions that rules should be the same in every state; as it is it seems terribly unfair. I’m told that wanting the rules to be the same is bad politically. I mean in general, not these issues in particular. I’m afraid I don’t understand the full political implications of making uniform laws.

  12. Julie your discussion of kidneys in this post does not really apply to surrogates or gamete donors. They are not giving up a body part they are performing services which is probably why your wanting to draw the comparison between them both with regard to risk in performance of dangerous services. You are probably wanting to focus on the fact that these tour guides are getting attention for how little they are paid for their high risk services when surrogates are not getting that same media attention and you think there is some sort of gender inequity going on there. Like its unfair nobody is highlighting how little surrogates are paid. So again I think you have to look at Surrogates screwing themselves over by framing the services as something they are doing for altruistic reasons. They don’t have to do that but they do and the Sherpas are not billing their services as a labor of love and altruism. Then you have to think if they stopped framing the services as altruistic, they are still not services that they could be employed by someone for, they’d have to be retained under contract leaving them in sole control to set the terms. They remain in control of their bodies.

    These are the services they agree to perform and you can decide for yourself if they are charging enough for those services and if not what laws do you feel currently limit their ability to charge a rate that you feel would be appropriate? I happen to think some of these services are reprehensible but I’m suspending judgement to look at the issue of whether there is gender inequity in the amount of money they receive for hazardous work compared to men doing hazardous work .
    Since women who give birth have legal parental responsibilities for the children they deliver (whether they are their children or not), part of what surrogates agree to do is not perform their parental responsibilities for the children they deliver. The terms may require abandonment of those responsibilities off the record so that they are not recorded as the mother on the child’s birth record, or may require she relinquish the child in a court approved adoption. Often both are required; they’ll start with abandonment of responsibilities to avoid the expense, trouble and written record of her as mother, but if the terms of the contract are determined to be illegal and an adoption is required in order to obtain legal parental rights she’ll sign in agreement to participate in a court approved adoption proceeding. Start out black market then go legal if they are forced to. She also agrees to do or not do many things over the course of 18 years after the birth of the child and after the child is an adult. Many contracts state that the surrogate and or egg donor is bound to the terms of the contract until she or the child dies whichever is later.

    The surrogate or egg donor contract may require the woman to reproduce and if so will state the method by which she will conceive her child either IVF or AI. The contract will set the terms to be met and prohibited acts that will be considered a breach with financial damages. This is at great risk to the contracting party because the donor or surrogate wont have the money on reserve to pay the damages. They typically agree to not get paid the rest of the money they are owed.

    An egg donor contract will have the woman agree to allow another woman to carry her pregnancy and will require her to consent to allow someone else decision making power regarding what happens to her remaining embryos. She may consent only to reproduce and become the bio mother of a limited number of children or may agree to an unlimited number of offspring with no control over who delivers them or who raises them.

    A surrogacy contract will have the woman agree to carry the child to term and typically involves all kinds of terms to be met regarding behavior and medical visits and how she will give birth. It will include financial damages for breach of those conditions. disposition of her remaining embryos.

    Not really. Even though some surrogates are also referred to as having donated an egg which ultimately results in donation of a baby, that baby is a person and so is not really property she can sell and same goes for her own body parts and cells. What she is doing is agreeing to perform various services that will leave someone else in a position to assert themselves as the parent of the child she gives birth to.

    I’ve really examined your assertion from top to bottom and arrive at your standard position that there is no comparable job to pregnancy. I was able to start to understand where you thought you saw overlap with the Sherpas and why you thought the media attention might be based on a gender bias towards men in dangerous jobs. But ultimately I settle on the surrogates themselves framing their duties as an altruistic act of love being donated and they are just asking for their expenses to be covered. It is also so unlike any job that no employer could ever legally require its employees to injure themselves into a state of disability as a requirement of their job. It has to be something offered as an independent contractor, it involves more than just high risk of injury and danger.

    Let’s ask why surrogates describe these services as altruistic, and refer to their compensation as reimbursement for expenses rather than as compensation for their services. My answer would be tax evasion, in which case they’re doing alright and getting over in their own way so I doubt if you’ll see a big push by them for higher wages when they want it to look like they are not gaining income from it. Follow the money for the answer to any question. That’s what I find.

    I suspect you’ll say I’m cynical like with adult adoption to get a new identity and hide from debt. sigh.

    Certainly the object of the contract is the child, the child is objectified but as much as I loath to admit it, its her services she’s being compensated to perform. I think some of those terms should not be enforced by the court because they result in a person being deined due process; the terms compromise the identity and freedom of the person who is the object of the contract. Nevertheless we are left with the fact that she’s performing services and she charges a fee. She sets the fee the market will bear. Current employment law would preclude an employee/employer relationship because it requires her to become physically disabled, qualify for disability. The terms require her to be under a doctors care. It’s not just a job that involves risk of injury like a fireman or a Sherpa that can be insured for and paid high wages for danger. The Sherpas perform services that could actually be organized and offered by a tour company. They could unionize for benefits and stuff.

    • its more than that marilyn, there are some so called agencies who claim to be concerned with ethics who actually support limiting the payment that surrogates are to receive.

      • They suggest a rate so that they have something to market the women who sign up with their agency. The women can go independent if they want or work with the agency to vet their potential clientele. Look at it this way any money they loose by aligning with the agency prices is like a fee they pay to the agency for marketing them to potential clients who are screened and what not. So maybe they charge 10 K less than they would if they were out there marketing themselves but they might not find a client that way.

  13. smoke and mirrors. That makes them look good. Besides they charge a flat fee, not a % cut. They don’t care how much the women get paid and it sounds better for them to say that. At least then nobody can accuse THEM of exploiting women or brokering babies. Follow the money.

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