Surrogate Motherhood: Who can judge?

Reproductive issues generate discussion at all levels of human society, from the political to the religious. However, the right of a deciding vote is reluctantly granted, in most jurisdictions, to the women who must risk their health to bring a new life into the world.

Unfortunately, even now in the 21st century, the first duty of a woman is considered to be motherhood. But if her health does not allow her to bear a child independently, moralisers enter the arena, asserting that reproductive techniques such as surrogate motherhood are an evil that reduces children to goods and women to incubators. But what about those who do not possess the physiological capability but who wish to realize their right to become a mother all the same?

At present, countries where surrogacy is legally permitted can be counted on one hand; they are Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and most US states. It is also possible to employ this method in many countries such as the UK, Holland, Canada and The Netherlands, but exclusively on an unpaid basis. The third group consists of nations where surrogacy is not at all regulated by law (Spain, Greece and Finland). Finally, there are many developed European countries where a direct, legislative ban on the use of surrogacy is in place: Germany, Sweden, France, Norway and some US states (Arizona, Michigan and New Jersey).

At the dawn of its birth, at the beginning of the 1980s, surrogacy was an exclusively charitable act; it was a woman’s mother or friend who, simply wanting to bestow this intimate, long-awaited happiness as a gift, gave birth to her child for her. Thus, in 1987, in South Africa, 48-year-old Pat Anthony carried and gave birth to her own three grandchildren for her 25-year-old daughter, Karen Ferreira-Jorge. Since then, however, business has attached itself to the process and surrogacy has become widely commercialised. Surrogacy is a good source of income; on top of her monthly expenses for food, medical care and other needs, a surrogate mother can be compensated with fees ranging from 10 to 20 thousand dollars.

Of course, as with any legal exchange, both sides are subject to risk: the parents could reject the child or the surrogate mother could refuse to hand the child over. Although data for such incidents are small in the US, for example, since surrogacy has come into use there have been 20 notable legal proceedings, the most famous being that of “Baby M.” In 1988, in New Jersey, surrogate mother Mary Beth Whitehead-Gould “changed her mind” and ran away with the baby to Florida. The biological parents hired private detectives to search for the fugitives and the Supreme Court of New Jersey awarded “Baby M” to its biological family, granting the surrogate mother visiting rights only.

But that was the romantic 1980s. These days, the opposite situation is more prevalent, in which the parents leave the child with the surrogate, as was the case for the Russian, Zinaida Rakova. Already a mother of two, she opted for surrogacy in order to improve her family’s financial situation. After the delivery, the biological parents rejected the baby because of their “reserve”: a second surrogate mother had delivered twins for them. Zinaida wasn’t given the option of putting the child in a home by saying “he has suffered enough.” Now five people are crammed into her tiny flat.

Despite surrogacy having a bad side (as does everything in this world), most of these stories end well: happy parents receive their babies, and surrogate mothers part with them without any damage to their psyche. Such is the story of Kazakhstan resident Yekaterina A., who carried and delivered a child for a childless Kazakh couple. She states that she deliberately chose parents of a different ethnicity in order to lower the risk of attachment to the child. During the pregnancy, she spent a lot of time with the biological mother of the baby. The biological mother spoke to the unborn baby, and they all listened to classical music together. The baby was in the womb of the surrogate but was soothed by the voice of its biological mother. Yekaterina’s acquaintances reacted quite normally when she returned home alone. They didn’t ask any intrusive questions, and her own children were old enough for everything to be explained to them.

Women by their nature are inclined to be compassionate, so for the great majority, the monetary factor does not play the primary role.   Most surrogate mothers, having experienced the joy of motherhood themselves, want to help other women to feel the same and find that making money is a secondary consideration. Recently, a Mexican couple, Luisa Gonzales and Enrique Moreno, unexpectedly became parents of quintuplets. Their surrogate mother, 25-year-old Teresa Anderson, was able to deliver all five embryos but refused to take any money for the “over-fulfilment” of the deal. Although the couple hadn’t expected this outcome, they took all five babies home and said that they would do everything possible to give them a happy childhood.

Returning to the issue of the debates surrounding surrogacy, we cannot ignore that for the most part, arguments against it are put forward by one religious institution or another. They claim that children are reduced to nothing but a commodity and the surrogate mother to an incubator or worse, someone who trades in her own body. Corrupt practises certainly do occur on both sides: there are women who wish to avoid giving birth naturally so as not to ruin their figures or suffer post-natal depression; the surrogate mothers in turn can defraud or blackmail the parents or not observe conditions on the use of dangerous medicines, alcohol and cigarettes during pregnancy. There is always the risk of not getting your “dream” child or not experiencing the joy of parenthood that everybody claims you should feel. But do those who are able to independently bring descendents into the world ever have a 100 % guarantee against all that? Since nature has allowed a woman the ability to give birth to a new life, isn’t it worth giving her the right to decide how, when and with whose help to do it?

Photo: Shutterstock

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