Surrogacy is a multidimensional and controversial issue. In essence, it is another case of modern science, improving the lives of people and helping them to solve problems that seemed to be unmanageable only several decades ago. It is another triumph of the human mind over the cruel circumstances, and, in theory, the idea appears to be rather noble. In practice, however, numerous issues and implications arise, complicating the whole process, and occasionally degrading it. Let us not dwell on the obvious delusions of the less literate people who believe that surrogate pregnancy involves having sex and is connected to prostitution. This problem, even though it does exist, can be easily solved by spreading accurate information. Other issues related to surrogacy can be much more difficult to address.
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One of the most complicated controversies connected to the topic is that of parenthood. Who is to be considered the actual mother of the child? The number of people who are involved in the process (the intended parents, the donor, the gestational surrogate mother) makes the definition of parenthood rather difficult. It can be regulated with the help of the laws, but the legislation connected to the issue differs from country to country. For example, while in India, the gestational parent has no right of motherhood, in the UK, only the woman who gives birth can be considered the legal mother (Saxena, Mishra & Malik, 2012).
However, while the legal procedures may help to determine the names in the child’s birth certificate, both intended and surrogate mothers have reported pondering on the issue of parenthood. The former, as had been shown in the story by Kuczynski (2008), find it difficult to convince themselves that they can be called a mother; the latter may find it difficult to part with their children. As a result, for example, in some states of the USA, “a surrogate has a small window of time after birth to stake her claim to parental rights” (Haworth, 2007, para. 23). The law, therefore, makes an attempt at taking into account all the intricacies of the issue and aims at preserving the rights and the human dignity of all the parties concerned, but it is not fit to help them deal with their mental conflicts.
These conflicts are aggravated by the commercialized nature of modern surrogacy. Those who believe that this is disturbing use phrases like “selling babies” and “renting wombs” to describe the situation. While donating blood is regarded as a heroic deed, donating (or rather renting) a womb is not similarly respected by society. Apart from that, the way surrogate mothers are treated has also raised concerns. The commercialization of the process presupposes that surrogate mothers and the women become supply, stocks and are supposedly “treated like robots”(Conan & Frank, 2010, para. 18). Finally, an idea has been expressed that money can become the factor that forces low-income females to use their bodies as incubators without actually being ready for it.
While it is obvious that these problems will not necessarily arise during a surrogate pregnancy, and that a self-respecting agency will do its best to provide parties concerned with the necessary psychological help, the public concern is reflected in legislation all over the world. As such, while any kind of surrogacy is illegal in a number of countries (for example, in Italy), only the commercial type is banned in other states (for example, in the UK). At the same time, there are countries that allow commercial surrogacy; for instance, Ukraine, India, and certain states of the US (Armour, 2012, p. 232-233). As a result, a phenomenon that may be called surrogacy tourism has developed.
Another reason for the development of this phenomenon lies in the fact that surrogacy can be differently arranged in different countries. In the US, for example, surrogacy is a rather expensive procedure, even though the price is justified. After all, bearing in mind all the possible implications, agencies thoroughly examine the physical and psychological state of the potential surrogate mothers and “don’t accept poor women as surrogates for a number of reasons” (Kuczynski, 2008, para. 47). All of this is done to avoid the issues that have been mentioned above, including the money issues. However, in other countries, particularly in India, the situation can be different. The conditions in which Indian surrogate mothers have to live are being assessed differently. For example, according to Ms. Frank, who had researched the issue carefully, the Indian clinics are “in a very good condition, I would say, very Western standards” (Conan & Frank, 2010, para. 15).
At the same time, the conditions described by Haworth (2007) appear to be less acceptable: “a room with three beds, an ancient ceiling fan, and wall paint that has bubbled in the heat like a nasty rash” (para. 35). Given the economic situation in India, Indian surrogate mothers are paid much less than American ones, which attracts customers but also makes one wonder if the Indian agencies are as careful and responsible as those in the US and if the poor Indian women are being exploited.
In this respect, it should be mentioned that surrogacy is not a luxury. It involves legal difficulties, numerous medical procedures, and, as has been mentioned, ethical dilemmas. Surrogacy is a difficult step to make, and people who agree to it are very often in despair.
A couple may not be able to have a baby for numerous reasons. Occasionally infertility can be treated. Kuczynski (2008) writes about the way people tend to grasp at straws while trying to treat infertility:
You just need to relax. Did you try acupuncture? Soy milk makes you infertile. You’re in front of your computer too much. What’s the problem with all your career girls? Did this cycle work? Are you pregnant this time? How many shots? Where? A low whistle: Boy, you must really want a child. You must really want a child. As if that were a bad thing. (para. 11-12)
And those straws maybe not enough. Apart from that, there are untreatable cases or cases with indefinable causes. With the help of surrogacy, modern medical science offers these people a chance, a way out, and they cannot be blamed for trying. The people who want the child are definitely not exploiting anyone; instead, they are the ones at the risk of being exploited along with the surrogate mothers. At the same time, in theory, the process is supposed to be beneficial for all parties: the business receives the profit and the reputation, the intended parents get the baby they want so much, the surrogate mother accepts their eternal gratitude and the paycheck. It should be mentioned that money can become a true salvation for women in India. As one of the surrogate mothers mentioned, bearing a child “is not exploitation. Crushing glass for 15 hours a day is exploitation” (Haworth, 2007, para. 36).
It is obvious that it can be unfair to offer poor women such a controversial way out. At the same time, they are all adults who have the right to decide what to do with their bodies, and they are aware of all the possible implications.
At least, they are supposed to be aware and informed about all the possible implications of surrogacy. Surrogacy agencies are expected to see to it; if they pay enough attention to their duties is another question. For example, according to Saxena et al. (2012), women in India are still often coerced or forced into the business (occasionally not by the agencies, but by their own relatives) and are ill-informed about the process. This may be true, and yet the deficient literacy of these females cannot be regarded as the disadvantage of the idea of surrogacy itself. Instead, it is the flaw of the system, and the way surrogacy is implemented in the area. This problem can and most certainly needs to be fixed since surrogacy is in demand nowadays, with India being one of the most popular surrogacy tourism destinations (Jaiswal, 2012, p. 1).
It cannot be denied that surrogacy is an extremely controversial issue that causes public disapproval and may result in great distress for all the parties involved. It is considered illegal or only partially legal in many countries, while the countries that allow it to become the destination of surrogacy tourism. Surrogacy business has become extremely profitable; however, it is imperative that the businessmen pay attention to the relevant ethical issues. In its essence, the idea of surrogacy is rather noble, and it is its implementation that causes most of the controversies. Therefore, sound legislation and management are what appear to be necessary for addressing these issues.
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For the time being, there is no sound alternative that could provide people with the same advantages without causing the above-mentioned problems. Therefore, surrogacy needs to be taken under governmental control; its methods should be improved, and, as a result, the general public may eventually become more accepting of the concept.
Armour, K. (2012). An Overview of Surrogacy Around the World. Nursing For Women’s Health, 16(3), 231-236. Web.
Conan, N. (Host), & Frank, Z. B. (Guest). (2010). ‘Google Baby’ Follows Birth Outsourced To India [Radio Program]. In L. Bishop (Executive Producer), Talk of the Nation. Web.
Haworth, A. (2007). Womb for Rent: Surrogate Mothers in India. WebMD Feature from “Marie Claire” Magazine. Web.
Jaiswal, S. (2012). Commercial Surrogacy in India: An Ethical Assessment of Existing Legal Scenario from the Perspective of Women’s Autonomy and Reproductive Rights. Gender, Technology and Development, 16(1), 1-28. Web.
Kuczynski, A. (2008). Her Body, My Baby. The New York Times. Web.
Saxena, P., Mishra, A., & Malik, S. (2012). Surrogacy: Ethical and Legal Issues. Indian Journal of Community Medicine, 37(4), 211-213. Web.