I consider this a continuation of the last few posts about the darker sides of surrogacy. (Just as a reminder, I don’t think surrogacy is inherently bad or wrong, but I do think it subject to abuse. The recent stories illustrate the sorts of abuse I worry about.)
As I read about the Thai case one thing I noticed is that the focus of concern seems to be either Gamay (the infant boy who remains in Thailand) or Pattaramon Chanbua (the surrogate). There isn’t much concern about the infant girl, who is presumably with the intended parents in Australia. But the girl is who I want to think about here for a bit.
I suppose I should start by saying that I don’t have universal concerns about the well-being of children born of surrogacy. I think the evidence gathered thus far shows that they, like children conceived/born other ways, are mostly just fine. This is important because it means I don’t see the well-being of children as a general objection to all surrogacy.
But this doesn’t mean there’s nothing to think about. As with adoption and use of third-party gametes, there can be better and worse ways of going about things. (I mean better and worse from the point of view of the children.)
That said, I have some specific concerns in the Thai case that are noted at the end of that last post. These relate to the particular facts of the case. I could say more than I did in the last post about these specific concerns, but in the interests of brevity I think I’ll just stick with that for the moment. Those specific concerns, however, lead me to a more general issue: honesty.
Some of you may recall that I am somewhat fanatical about the importance of honesty. I have been deeply influenced in this by Adrienne Rich. Rich persuaded me that 1) we usually lie to spare ourselves even though we say we do so to spare others and 2) lying is corrosive. It eats away at the underlying relationship.
Now there have been long discussions about honesty here as it relates to the use of third-party gametes. I’m not sure I can make any claim that there was anything like complete consensus, but I think it is fair to say that most of us agreed that when parents don’t tell their children they were conceived using third-party gametes they are creating a risk of possibly great harm. There are countless stories of children discovering only late in life that their genetic parents are not the people they thought they were. While some of these people produce brilliant documentaries, I don’t think it is generally a good thing.
I think the commitment to honesty carries over to surrogacy. Given how interested young children are in the process of their gestation (“when I was in mommy’s tummy….”) I don’t see quite how you can get by without either lying to them (telling them they were in the IPs tummy, assuming there is a female IP) or explaining surrogacy. Of course, “explaining surrogacy” is going to mean different things at different times and is up to the parents. But it seems to me that if you’re not going to affirmatively lie (which surely violates my honesty principle) then you’re going to be explaining surrogacy, over and over, in ever-greater detail.
I think this is perfectly possible in instances where the intended parents have a good relationship with the surrogate. I’m sure that people handle this in all sorts of different (positive) ways, some of which include direct engagement between the child and the surrogate.
But what about in cases where the IPs don’t even meet the surrogate? Where they don’t know anything much about her life and can say nothing about her motives beyond the fact that she needed the money? What about instances where the surrogate was an impoverished woman half a world away? How do you explain that to a child, over and over?
Notice that this isn’t a problem peculiar to the Thai case. It would arise in lots of the globalized surrogacy set ups. I haven’t seen anyone write about this/talk about this, but I wonder about how to make the a positive and affirming backstory for the child. And hence, I wonder about what the long-term consequences are.