Thousands of women in the United States face difficulties with fertility. They suffer from numerous health problems, because infertility always leads to a huge moral pain. Society often views women, who cannot have children, as men-like and incomplete. Even the most expensive reproductive technologies do not help to solve female infertility problems. In this context, biological surrogacy and egg donation represent the two easy ways to help a woman become a mother.
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Every year, the number of children born through surrogacy in the United States grows. However, the legal, ethical, and moral limitations of biological surrogacy should not be ignored. Women who agree to become surrogate mothers must prepare themselves for the moral and physical pains of separation with the child. Women who choose surrogate mothers to carry their babies must be ready to accept the child, regardless of his (her) physical state at birth.
At present, biological surrogacy resembles the act of trade, when the child’s genetic parents manipulate the surrogate mother, using their power and finances. Biological surrogacy can give some hope to the women, who have fertility problems, but only when effective legislation is developed to govern the relationships between biological parents and surrogate mothers.
Biological Surrogacy: The Case of Tiffany Burke and Crystal Kelley
Biological surrogacy has become so common in the United States, that it is no longer shameful for a woman to say that she is carrying someone else’s child. It is a source of childbearing hopes for many infertile women, as well as a good moneymaking opportunity for the women, who can bear and give birth to a child.
Tiffany Burke, 31, is currently pregnant with the twins she is carrying for her brother and sister-in-law (Hudson, 2012). She is monitoring her health and calls herself as “60% organic” (Hudson, 2012). Tiffany says that the babies she is carrying were formed with her brother’s sperm and her sister’s egg (Hudson, 2012).
She already has a child of her own, and she knows what it feels like being pregnant. It is interesting that Tiffany was the initiator of this pregnancy, after her sister’s uterus was removed as a result of uncontrolled bleeding (Hudson, 2012). She eats organic foods and uses vinegar instead of traditional shampoo. What she does not know is whether her pregnancy will go well for her, the babies, and the biological parents. She does not know what she will do, in case anything goes wrong.
This is the question Crystal Kelley might have been asking herself, when a nice couple she met at the playground decided she could be their surrogate (Chapin, 2013). By the time Kelley agreed to become a surrogate, she already had two daughters and a tragic experience of two miscarriages (Chapin, 2013).
She was fascinated with the amount of attention she was getting from the biological parents. However when, at 21 weeks, an ultrasound revealed considerable health abnormalities, the genetic parents offered $10,000 for Kelley to make an abortion (Caplan, 2013). Kelley refused and moved to Michigan, where she was free to control her body. She gave birth to a girl, who was adopted by the family that has enough financial means to raise her and meet her health needs (Caplan, 2013; Chapin, 2013).
Biological Surrogacy: The Why and How of the Problem
Why Women Do It
Biological surrogacy raises numerous ethical and legal issues, one of them being the right to autonomy, privacy, and self-control. Still, the number of families which apply to biological surrogacy continues to increase each year. The basic question is why, despite so many ethical challenges, families choose biological surrogacy.
The answer is simple: everyone wants to have a child of their own. The fact is that egg donation and biological surrogacy greatly increase women’s chances to become mothers. According to Steinbock (2004), a woman who is infertile and uses her own eggs for in vitro fertilization has a 15 percent chance to become pregnant, compared to a 40 percent chance for a woman, who uses donated eggs.
The situation with biological surrogacy is quite similar: for many women who cannot get pregnant naturally, surrogacy provides the only real opportunity to have a child (Steinbock, 2004). Tiffany Burke, who is carrying the twins for her brother- and sister-in-law, understands how difficult it is not to have a child, and this is probably why she decided to sacrifice her body for the sake of pregnancy. However, Burke’s case is a rare example of nobility, unlike other cases, when surrogacy is just a matter of money and control.
Biological Surrogacy as a Commodity
With the absence of effective regulations, biological surrogacy resembles the act of trade, where the child is exchanged for a considerable sum of money, and the surrogate mother is just a physical means for having a baby. Commodification is one of the biggest ethical problems in the context of egg donation and surrogacy.
Women who donate their eggs are paid between $2,500 and $5,000 (Steinbock, 2004). Chrystal Kelley was paid $22,000 for her pregnancy and could receive another $10,000, if she agreed to make an abortion (Caplan, 2013). Thus, “surrogacy for money is about money – not love, or help, or altruism or doing good. Money is most attractive to those who need it most” (Caplan, 2013). Biological surrogacy is very much like renting the surrogate mother’s womb for a good sum of money.
Certainly, it is possible to say that everything in this world is bought and sold. Scientists sell their minds; lawyers sell their knowledge of the legal procedures; and athletes sell their physical abilities and bodies to cope with their daily needs (Steinbock, 2004).
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At times, individuals agree to sell their body parts and organs, when they have no other way to earn for living. However, they do not sell their souls or votes, because it is morally unacceptable. No one wants to be treated as property. Nevertheless, in most cases, this is what happens to the women, who have agreed to become surrogate mothers.
No one says that biological surrogacy is absolutely wrong and should not be allowed. Rather, surrogacy cannot be permitted in its present-day form. It should be thoroughly regulated by the state, and it is state that should (or should not) compensate surrogate mothers for their noble decisions. Only then, biological surrogacy will become moral and acceptable, when no financial interests are involved.
Biological Surrogacy and Body Control
Another problem is that of biological surrogacy and body control. Women who agree to rent their wombs for money often have no voice in the medical and financial decisions regarding their body. Many of them understand that surrogacy is a huge responsibility (Hudson, 2012).
For many others, the lack of control over their bodies becomes an unpleasant surprise during pregnancy. Crystal Kelley, who was asked to abort her child because of the health problems revealed during an ultrasound, received a letter from an attorney who was telling her that, under the surrogacy contract, she had no legal right to keep the child (Caplan, 2013). Under the surrogacy contract, she was required to make an abortion in case any health problems were identified (Caplan, 2013).
However, no one can make a woman get rid of the unborn baby. Under no circumstances can this decision be regarded as legal (Caplan, 2013). Even if the surrogate mother signs a contract, its provisions have no legal power. The attorney who was pressuring Crystal Kelley to seek an abortion can lose his license, because his letter was a serious violation of law (Caplan, 2013). Still, biological surrogacy increases the risks of exploitation.
Even providing large monetary rewards for surrogacy can become a form of coercion. Many women cannot resist the temptation to earn some money for being pregnant. As a result, they turn themselves into a commodity. The money they receive for carrying and giving birth to a child may not be worth the risks of exploitation, which these women are facing.
Kelley was threatened that, in case she refused an abortion, she would have to pay back the money she had received from the genetic parents (Caplan, 2013). She was manipulated to become a murderer of the child, which is equal to a serious crime. However, she was strong enough to withstand the pressure and give birth to a child.
She had even more power and strength to find a family that would care for the sick girl. Looking back at Kelley’s case, it is possible to say that “any surrogate agency which conveyed an offer of money to encourage an abortion is guilty of at best bribery and an attempt to crassly manipulate a vulnerable woman” (Caplan, 2013).
Now, What Happens Next?
Now that the surrogate child is born, what happens to him (her) and how are his (her) relations with the genetic parents develop? This is the question, which matters a lot but does not receive enough professional attention. Biological surrogacy is often described as a process that starts with egg and sperm donation and ends, when the baby is born.
Yet, it is clear that children who are born through surrogacy lack a physical and psychological link with their genetic parents (Golombok, Readings, Blake, Caset, Marks & Jadva, 2011). Unfortunately, Tiffany Burke does not think of how the babies she is carrying will build their relations with the genetic parents.
Crystal Kelley sounds quite confident that the foster parents she has found for her newborn girl will be able to meet her most serious health needs. Today, the children born through surrogacy do not differ much from their peers, who were born through natural conception (Golombok et al., 2011). Families that used surrogacy do not seem to be different from the families, which never experienced any fertility problems.
Getting back to the ethics of biological surrogacy, what will the children born from surrogate mothers say to their biological parents, when they learn about their origins? How will they react to the fact that they were carried and born by a different woman? Will they experience confusion in terms of their mother-and-child roles? Will they treat the surrogate mother as a womb rented to give them life? These questions do not have any answers, as well as the questions related to the morality of biological surrogacy in the modern world.
Many societies and communities feel that surrogacy is just another step towards a cyborg society, where robots and humans live side by side. Many others treat surrogacy as a huge hope for those women, who cannot have children. Many issues related to surrogacy remain unresolved. Meanwhile, many women do not even know what it takes to be a surrogate mother.
Much of the current confusion regarding biological surrogacy is because of the lack of knowledge, information, and openness in relations between genetic parents and surrogate mothers. Those, who agree to become a surrogate, do not even imagine the difficulties associated with this role (Steinbock, 2004).
With so many women having fertility problems, surrogacy should remain an accessible and affordable way to have a baby, but only when new regulations are developed to help surrogate mothers avoid exploitation, commodification, coercion, and harm. This is the only way biological surrogacy can save the society from the risks of a demographic crisis and help infertile women become mothers.
When it comes to biological surrogacy, one of the central questions is whether it is justified. The results of this analysis show that surrogate mothers can provide thousands of women with a chance to become mothers.
Surrogacy is a good alternative to more traditional adoption, since the child born through surrogacy carries the essential genetic features of his (her) parents. However, as the number of surrogate mothers continues to grow, the United States needs better regulations to control and manage this sphere. The cases analyzed in this paper suggest that women, who agree to be surrogate mothers, face numerous risks.
First, they can be easily manipulated into becoming surrogates, because they are offered huge monetary rewards for being pregnant. Second, these women often do not know what it takes to be a surrogate and how it impacts their fundamental rights. Third, women who agree to be surrogates are subject to exploitation and coercion risks. For example, genetic parents can push them towards an abortion, if they learn that the baby has severe physical abnormalities.
This is why the United States needs a new set of laws and regulations to help surrogate mothers defend their rights to autonomy and decision making. The problem is not about biological surrogacy. Being pregnant with someone else’s child is neither immoral nor illegal, but when pregnancy does not turn into an object of trade.
In the absence of a solid legal environment, surrogacy turns unborn babies into a commodity that can be bought and sold. New legislation will help protect the right of the unborn babies, while also making surrogate mothers less vulnerable to the risks of exploitation and abuse.
Caplan, A. (2013). $10,000 to abort? Surrogacy case reveals moral holes, bioethicist says. NBC News. Web.
Chapin, J. (2013). Surrogate gives birth against biological parents’ wishes. NBC News. Web.
Golombok, S., Readings, J., Blake, L., Casey, P., Marks, A. & Javda, V. (2011).
Families created through surrogacy: Mother-child relationships and children’s psychological adjustment at age 7. Developmental Psychology, 47(6), 1579- 1588. Web.
Hudson, W. (2012). Surrogate mom strives for organic living. CNN. Web.
Steinbock, B. (2004). Payment for egg donation and surrogacy. The Mount Sinai Journal of Medicine, 71(4), 255-265. Web.