There is a long story in today’s NYT which, while somewhat off-topic, illustrates the problematic role of money in a lot of the ART stuff I discuss here. It’s about the commodification of breast milk. While the story bears reading, the critical point to understand is that there is an emerging industry–and I do mean industry–built around processing breast milk. One person calls it “white plasma”–which for me seems to echo the designation of oil as “black gold.”
There are doubtless many reasons why the industrialization of breast milk is disturbing even as its potential to save or enhance the lives of premature infants is clearly beneficial. I just want to focus on one thing, though, and it has to do with money.
Human breast milk can only be obtained from one source–women. The question raised in the article–and the one I want to think about here– is whether women should be paid to produce breast milk. It’s easy for me to see the two sides. Continue reading
I have an extremely erratic internet connection just now, so I guarantee you this will be short. That’s if I can get it posted at all. There’s a short story in today’s paper about Thai surrogacy–the fallout of the Baby Gamay story I already blogged about. The main point is that Thailand is not letting intended parents leave Thailand with the children Thai surrogates gave birth to at the moment. It’s a drastic remedy when you think about it. No question in my mind that Thai surrogacy needs reform, but keeping the children (and through the children, the intended parents) in Thailand hardly seems an answer. On the other hand, it surely a deterrent. Who would choose Thai surrogacy knowing that the risk was you’d be living in Thailand. (Nothing against Thailand–but if you didn’t plan to move there, it would be rather a complication.)
What really moved me to write, though, is the last sentence of the story in the Seattle Times. It is by Rod McGuirk who writes for AP. I cannot find a link to this anywhere–but as I say, my access if really spotty.
So here is what it says:
Scores of Australian biological parents are currently pregnant through surrogates in Thailand.
This, to my mind, is newspeak–the language of George Orwell’s 1984. There may be biological parents in Australia (though remember I prefer “genetic?”) But there is no way they are pregnant. And I haven’t the slightest idea what it means to be pregnant through another person. It is (to my mind) bad enough when a non-pregnant person with a pregnant partner says “we’re pregnant.”
Pregnancy is personal. The surrogates are pregnant. The providers of genetic material are not. It’s a terrible thing to twist language to suggest otherwise.
Gonna go now while the connection holds…..
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. Continue reading
There’s a story that has been all over the media the last few days involving an Australian couple who used a Thai surrogate. I’m sure you can find a dozen different versions of the story, but I’ll start with this one from the Washington Post. One of the reasons I’ll use this one is that it makes it clear that a lot of the details are unknown and/or unclear.
That said, here’s the bare-bones account. (I’m trying to stay to the facts we know, but I think I have to make some assumptions, too. I’ll try to identify them.). An unnamed (and presumably heterosexual) Australian couple went to Thailand to hire a surrogate. (While it doesn’t say this, I think we can assume that part of the reason they went to Thailand is that compensated surrogacy is prohibited in Australia.)
Pattaramon Chanbua is a 21-year-old Thai woman. She is food vendor and earns $622 per month. A surrogacy agency offered to pay her somewhere between $9300 and $16,000 to serve as a surrogate. She agreed to do so. Continue reading
There’s something weird about the ebb and flow in the media attention to surrogacy. You seem to get a blast of positive coverage and then, a few weeks later, a corresponding blast of negative coverage. Right now we are clearly in negative territory, as this article nicely shows. It’s about the black market for surrogacy that currently exists in China–and apparently exists on a pretty large scale. (The article quotes an estimate of “well over 10,000 birth a year.” That is a pretty huge number (though of course, China has an enormous population.)
No one could mistake this for a positive article. As with most black market enterprises, black market surrogacy is rife with abuse and exploitation. While the surrogates employed by one agency (Baby Plan) are (to my mind, anyway) surprisingly well-paid ($24,000), the conditions under which they operate seem nightmarish to me: Continue reading
As my vacation winds down, I have been thinking about this article, which I’m sure many of you saw. (It was on the front page of the New York Times a couple of days ago.)
There’s been a lot of discussion about surrogacy here over the years (and I’m actually working on a more sustained law review type piece on the subject.) You all probably know that mostly I worry about the vulnerability of the surrogates. They are virtually always women who have less power, less money and less education than the intended parents.
While I haven’t written much about it, I know many people worry about the vulnerability of children conceived via surrogacy. No question that children are vulnerable. But all the studies I’ve read tend to show that children born via surrogacy don’t really fare differently than other children–which is to say that most do just fine. Nothing I’ve seen suggests that surrogacy per se is a problem in this regard.
Anyway, in general the people I’m the least concerned about are the intended parents–those who contract with the surrogates in order to become parents. And that is where this article comes in: Continue reading
I’m sure many of you saw and read this story that was in the NYT a couple of days ago. The headline (“Coming to US for a Baby, and Womb to Carry It”) doesn’t really do it justice. While it is, in fact, a story about the US as a destination for what is sometimes called reproductive tourism, it isn’t only that. It’s full of interesting little points about surrogacy and many of the hard questions surrogacy raises. From my point of view, this makes it hard to know where to begin. So I guess I’ll just dive in……
The article does a nice job of at least touching on some of the issues that can arise with surrogacy. So, for example, the question of compensation is raised. Do you pay a surrogate? How much and for what? Perhaps it isn’t clear that even within the US there’s enormous variation on the approach to compensation–from making compensation illegal to facilitating it.
Does the exchange of money mean that surrogacy exploits women? Continue reading
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. Continue reading
I’m sure many of you have read about the tragic deaths of 16 Sherpas on Mt Everest. This story, about the local response here in the Pacific Northwest, caught my attention this AM. And oddly (or perhaps not so oddly, given my general interests in all things ART) it made me think about surrogacy and surrogates.
I actually think surrogates and Sherpas have more in common than you might think even though there are obvious differences. Both undertake difficult and dangerous jobs. Most surrogates do so for money and Sherpas are paid, too. And both Sherpas and surrogates are doing work which really, when you get right down to it, doesn’t have to be done. No one has to climb Mt. Everest. No one has to use a surrogate to have a child or even has to have a child, come to that. (This last point is the subject of some of the discussion of my most recent post about social surrogacy.) Continue reading