Should India Ban Commercial Surrogacy?

There’s no question that surrogacy, even at its best and conducted domestically, is fraught with ethical issues. When all parties enter into a surrogacy arrangement as equals, with fully conscious and informed consent, and everyone is absolutely clear on their roles and the boundaries that pertain those roles, it can be a wonderful, collaborative and mutually beneficial experience for everyone.

There is also little question that surrogacy in the United States is expensive and favors upper-middle class and wealthy couples seeking to have a family. The boon of overseas surrogacy arrangements, such as those facilitated through fertility centers in India, help to bring the cost down significantly given the cheaper cost of medical care overseas and the lower fees paid to women who serve as surrogates.

But the Indian government is seeking to end commercial surrogacy in its country by forbidding its women citizens to serve as surrogate mothers for anyone except close relatives who are infertile, which would effectively end overseas surrogacy arrangements for American (and other) couples.

The government’s logic is two-fold. Their first concern is that commercial surrogacy objectifies and quantifies a human life, which most will agree is priceless. But according to a recent article in The Washington Post, it sounds as if the legal framework for surrogacy arrangements and contracts need to be more clearly defined:

“Divorce is highly prevalent in foreign countries. We have had cases where the couple takes their child from the surrogate mother and then they get divorced after some time. The child belongs to nobody. This is why we disallowed foreigners.”

This is clearly a case of ambiguous legal arrangements. How could a child belong to “nobody?” What about the child’s genetic parents? Unless the genetic parents have given the child up for adoption (which is exceedingly unlikely after going through surrogacy to have the child), the child belongs to them and the surrogate mother has no legal or social claim to the child. Even if an egg or a sperm donor is used, there is almost always one genetic link to the child. And let’s take a step back – how many couples divorce and actually want to abandon their child in the process?

The second concern on the part of the Indian government is that poor women, the ones who act as surrogate mothers, are being exploited in the process of carrying babies for foreign couples. This may, in fact, be true. But the solution to marginalizing Indian women is to create a more functional and empowering framework for surrogacy, not to ban the act of surrogacy altogether.

The issue of surrogate mothers being viewed as “breeders” or a marginalized class of women is not uncommon in conservative parts of the United States, either. A quick Google search will turn up plenty of hits supporting the view of abolishing surrogacy because it trespasses on the human rights of the woman acting as a surrogate, not to mention the child brought to life as “a commodity.”

I can say with certainty that the lives I brought to this earth, and the lives that every surrogate mother I know have brought to this earth, are all precious and beloved. No child is more wanted and yearned for than those who are born through surrogacy.

As a middle class woman who served as a gestational surrogate for six different American couples, I never considered myself marginalized or “a breeder,” even when one of my surrogacy arrangements was less-than-ideal.  I passed not only physical screenings, but multiple psychological screenings that determined I was a good fit for the gestational surrogacy process, both the good parts and the not-so-good parts. Because nothing that is so complicated and emotional as infertility, IVF, and surrogacy is all good all the time – to declare it otherwise is shortsighted and naive – proper screening, communication, medical care and psychological support are the cornerstones of success. I entered all of my surrogacy arrangements fully informed of my own rights.

Women who act as gestational surrogates overseas may not have the benefit of fully informed consent and an understanding of their legal rights, and until this is the case, I support limitations on couples using foreign surrogates just because the cost is cheaper. Not to mention the potential effects on the children of such arrangements – I support full disclosure and an open door policy between intended parents, gestational surrogates, and the children they create.  I believe this is what’s necessary to prove that these children are in fact loved and valued and not merely a product of a commercial transaction.

And until a system can be put into place in countries like India, a framework that allows for surrogacy to be treated as a uniquely loving partnership that fully respects all parties involved, but especially respects the women serving as gestational carriers, India just may be doing the right thing by curtailing commercial surrogacy arrangements both domestically and abroad.