Should we be concerned with a growing demand for rent-a-womb pregnancies? The accepted term, of course, is ‘surrogacy’, but I wonder if this is just a neat, clinical way of referring to baby trade.
Surrogacy has always made me uncomfortable and not only because I am a Christian, whose beliefs hinge on the inherent value of human life and the traditional family unit.
Surrogacy is a transaction that reinforces the divide between the Haves and the Have-Nots. Infertile or gay or image-conscious Western couples can buy a baby. Even in altruistic surrogacy, there is a disregard for the intimate bond a baby and mother stitch together in the nine months before delivery.
Commercial surrogacy is illegal in Australia, however, as the recent case of baby Gammy has highlighted, Australian couples are free to access overseas surrogacy services and bring their baby home.
It’s still early days for Tasmania where laws changed in 2012 to allow altruistic surrogacy. In Queensland, however, this change happened in 2010. Of the three surrogacy arrangements since, two have ended up in court because the adults either changed their minds or misunderstood some of the arrangements.
It’s intensely complicated.
Kajsa, who was in Australia for the Festival of Dangerous Ideas, made some compelling statements about surrogacy.
“In prostitution, you’re selling sex, you’re selling your vagina. In surrogacy you’re selling your uterus which is being commodified as something that’s not a part of the woman’s self but something she can sell without being affected,” she said.
The mother is absent. She provides a pregnancy like any service or job.
You will notice another absence in the discourse around surrogacy; the fetus, embryo, zygote, baby, child – or whatever name you’d like to assign this fledgling life. Surrogacy is about a child, not the child. Kajsa went on to say this:
“There’s no human right to have children. There is however a convention on the rights of the child which says that the child has the right to parents.”
Creating a baby for the sole reason of removing it from its birth mother is surely unethical.
I Googled ‘surrogate mother’ and found an ad for a ‘center for human reproduction’ (sic) in the Ukraine. There Is No Absolute Infertility a headline reads. The website isn’t dissimilar to Coles online. Beside an icon of what could be a shopping trolley (I’d say it was meant to be a pram!), browsers are informed that, “couples of any age” can become a parent.
Another icon, another statement: “Clinic has a wide database of donors who meet all individual requirements of clients.”
“Use only fresh eggs,” and “guaranteed results,” and “100% money back.” The vernacular is unashamedly commercial, about meeting the needs of the paying customer.
When a man and a woman share sexual intimacy, there is an inexplicable bond formed. It’s spiritual. The same can be said of the bond between a mother and her baby, a father and his child. When these ‘soul ties’ are severed, the repercussions stretch from the individual to broader society.
Let’s not be so naive as to think we can separate the womb from the woman.
Infertility is a heart-wrenching journey and I know that many couples would give their right arm to have a child of their own. But there is more at stake here than the yearning for parenthood.
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First published in The Examiner Newspaper for Keeping the Faith column, Monday September 8, 2014.