Friday, January 04, 2008

Get Your Baby from India

This is absurd:

The voice was commanding, slightly disdainful and officious.

“The legal issues in the United States are complicated, having to do with that the surrogate mother still has legal rights to that child until they sign over their parental rights at the time of the delivery. Of course, and there’s the factor of costs. For some couples in the United States surrogacy can reach up to $80,000.”

This was “Julie,” an American thirtysomething who’d come to India to pay a poor village woman to bear her baby. She went on:

“You have no idea if your surrogate mother is smoking, drinking alcohol, doing drugs. You don’t know what she’s doing. You have a third-party agency as a mediator between the two of you, but there’s no one policing her in the sense that you don’t know what’s going on.”

Would you want this woman owning your womb?

The Indian surrogate mothers quoted along with Julie in a report on American Public Media’s “Marketplace” on NPR last week didn’t much appear troubled by that kind of thought. After all, the money they were earning for their services — $6,000 to $10,000 – might have been a pittance compared to what surrogates in the United States might earn, but it was still, for their families, the equivalent of 10 to 15 years of normal income.

They couldn’t hear Julie speaking in her awful, entitled tone. And if they had, would they have cared? “From the money I earn as a surrogate mother, I can buy a house,” said Nandani Patel, via a translator. “It’s not possible for my husband to earn more as he’s not educated and only earns $50 a month.”

I don't have a problem with surrogate motherhood. I believe that it's a reasonable alternative for women who are unable to carry a fetus to term in their own wombs, as long as long as all parties know what they're getting into and the surrogate chooses to be a surrogate absent coercion and duress (including economic.) But I do have a problem with Americans paying Indian women halfway around the world to bear their children in special facilities where their behavior is regulated, and paying them substantially less than they would pay an American woman to do the same thing. I have a problem with it because Indian women will engage in this practice to procure money for basic necessities like food and shelter for themselves or their family, concerns that are not nearly as pressing for an American woman who might choose to engage in surrogacy. Consequently, Indian women are much more likely to engage in surrogacy when they otherwise would not. This should be troubling, as surrogacy is a process that is more burdensome and invasive to a woman than any other means of earning money that I can imagine (including prostitution) and a woman shouldn't feel the need to engage in it to put food on the table when she otherwise would not.

I don't particularly care for the argument, made by one of the surrogates later in Warner's post, that it's alright because both sides benefit. Not because it's not true; it clearly is. If you pay a homeless man $2 an hour to sit around and make sure nobody messes with your car, you're clearly both benefiting from the transaction. But the reason you're paying him so little is because he is grossly disadvantaged, and can't ask for more. That the homeless man gains from whatever you pay him does not make it unconscionable to pay him so little. Unlike American women, who may dare to eat fast food one too many nights and demand considerable sums of money to carry someone else's child around in them, Indian women are in no position to protest or say no to a few thousand dollars, not when if they do there's surely tens of thousands more who would gladly take their place so they can put food on the table.

To me this is no different than the poor of the third world selling their organs cheaply to people from developed countries. They sell them because the only thing they have of value is their bodies, and they're willing to sacrifice part of their bodies or their general health to benefit their families. It's also no different from conducting medical experiments on the poor and paying them to do so, and utilizing the results for the benefit of our own people. That they are willing to sell their bodies, that their bodies may be the only thing they possess of any real value, does not mean that we need to be complicit in the process and comfort ourselves by saying "Well, they get something out of it too, see?"

As an aside, I also don't care for a practice that appears to encourage the view the children are something that can be bought for the right price. Controlling as many aspects of the surrogates life and health as possible is done in an effort to ensure the baby is healthy, but it also represents an effort on the part of the paying couples to procure the "best" child they can get for their money. Fair enough if the pregnant woman desires herself to strictly regulate her behavior in an effort to bolster the child's chances at being a little genius, but to pay someone else for the same thing? That's buying a good.

In short, this process should be outlawed. If American couples desire a child they can come up with the money to pay an American woman to act as a surrogate, and they can be engaged in her life if they wish to have some say in her behavior as she brings the child to term in her womb. Or they can adopt. But the poor of the world do not exist to serve as incubators for Americans and other westerners who want children on the cheap.


Nat-Wu said...

It is exploitation. We already exploit their bodies by outsourcing our pollution and work injuries to them. This is just the most invasive form of it. It's unethical and that's why I think we need a worker's bill of rights that covers both employees in the US and any workers outside of it employed by US companies or individuals. It needs to become an issue that people pay attention to.

Maxjulian said...

the depths to which we have sunk...