This takes up from yesterday’s post, so you’d best start there.
I want to start by making explicit one point that I think has been (should have been, anyway) implicit. I have no problem with the surrogate receiving money. Indeed, it would trouble me greatly to set aside this one activity which is uniquely female and then say it could not be the subject of compensation. That simply seems like one more instance of devaluing women’s labor (forgive me the pun).
The question for me is assuming you can give the surrogate money, what is the money for? What, exactly, are you buying? I’ve discussed this before, but I think I can come at it from a different angle here.
I’ll start on solid ground. I think we all pretty well agree you are not buying her parental rights. That amounts to buying a child and we do not (as yet) buy and sell children.
Now there are two ways you can assert you are not buying a child even as you give the surrogate money. One is to say that she is not a mother. If she’s not a mother, you cannot possibly be buying her parental rights, because she doesn’t have any parental rights to sell. That’s the reasoning of commercial surrogacy generally. You then characterize the money as payment for her services in caring for the child.
The other rationale is to say that she is a mother and that you are paying expenses of the pregnancy. It’s a bit unclear to me what you get in return for paying the expenses. But this is the rationale for payment in what is called “compassionate surrogacy” in the UK.
A common feature of both of these rationales is that the surrogate’s parental status doesn’t change as a result of the monetary transaction. She either starts out as a mother and remains one (compassionate or altruistic surrogacy) or she never becomes a mother at all (commercial surrogacy ).
I’ve talked about the critical difference between the two surrogacy models before. In compassionate surrogacy, the surrogate is a legal parent of the child. She retains the right to change her mind about delivering the child to the intended parent(s). In the US version of commercial surrogacy, the surrogate has no right to change her mind–indeed, there is nothing she can change her mind about, since she is never understood to be the mother of the child. Only under the latter conditions that surrogacy can exist as a significant for-profit industry.
It seems very likely to me that if you set the two models side-by-side, prospective parents will pick the commercial surrogacy model every time. It’s better for them in that it relieves them of a good deal of uncertainty. (Not all uncertainty, of course. The outcome of pregnancy is always uncertain, even if the surrogate is bound.) Given the path that leads many heterosexual couples to surrogacy–long experience of unsuccessful attempts at child-bearing–relief from uncertainty may be very highly valued.
I find the altruistic model far more appealing and there are reasons why society as a whole might prefer that model, individual preferences notwithstanding. Altruistic surrogacy invites a better dynamic between the parties. It allows the surrogate to receive money (which I assume will increase the number of women willing to be surrogates) but at the same time emphasizes the altruistic nature of the endeavor. it seems to me far less likely to be exploitative. The question I am left with is whether it is really workable. It does mean that the person or people intending to be parents must live with the possibility that the surrogate will change her mind. In short, it requires a great deal of trust on the part of the people hoping to become parents.