Informed surrogates required for morality

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(Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

According to welfare economics, a decision is rational as long as the parties involved have all possible information (and the consumer chooses consistently, but for the sake of this argument, we are concerned with complete information).

Most often, a surrogate mother does not have enough information to make a rational decision, as she does not know what it means to be separated from her newborn.

Therefore, her consent cannot be considered valid due to a lack of information. More so, the act of buying and selling human life is rashly unethical and degrading, both to the child and the mother.

Commercial surrogate motherhood, therefore, is both economically and morally incorrect and should not be legal (note: I have specified “commercial”).

Morally speaking, a contract that requires a mother to give away her child is outrageous in itself, but to accept money in exchange is simply degrading to the mother as well as the child. The father is only required to pay the medical expenses of this transaction. The likely expenditure on therapy, after having been separated from her child, falls on the mother.

Let us assume that the father agrees to pay for the therapy. This would at most heal the wounds but not erase the scars. Depression caused by the loss of a child is not something that any form of therapy can completely cure.

Another fundamental issue with commercial surrogate motherhood is that the child is never taken into consideration.

We never consider the impact on the child who has just realized that his parents had bought him off a market. His fear of not being loved will pressure him into expressing the characteristics that his parents had intended to purchase.

Many argue for commercial surrogate motherhood claiming that every citizen has the right to procreate and the freedom of contract.

The truth is that the right to procreate implies “being able to create and sustain a family life with some integrity,” as E.S. Anderson states in “Is Woman’s Labor A Commodity?”

Surrogate motherhood effectively destroys a family before creating another, as it first separates the mother from her newborn child.

Also, there is no integrity in the buying and selling of human life. Thus, legalizing surrogate motherhood would violate the true implication of the right to procreate.

The freedom of contract is “already constrained, notably in preventing the purchase and sale of human beings,” according to Anderson. Therefore, these two rights can’t justify commercial surrogate motherhood.

It is often said that the surrogate woman’s labor is the ‘labor of love.’ It is true that most surrogate mothers aren’t in it for the money. Most (not all) of them are either punishing themselves for not having fulfilled parental responsibilities in the past, or view pregnancy as a way of feeling ‘special’ and ‘appreciated’. In reality, these women are treated as mere objects.

The adopting family is seldom concerned about the surrogate mother’s emotional well-being.

While a prime reason for a woman to consent to commercial surrogate motherhood would be to be able to share the joys of raising a newborn, most adopting families would rather keep her away from the child as, in Anderson’s words, “to them, her presence is a threat to marital unity and a competing object for the child’s affections.”

They mercilessly use her to produce their desired goods and then conveniently discard her, leaving her degraded and miserable.

Commercial surrogate motherhood is often considered the same as ‘morally acceptable’ practices, like adoption and artificial insemination by donor (AID). But are they really the same?

Adoption aims at providing those children with families whose biological parents either “cannot or will not discharge their parental responsibilities,” according to Anderson. There is no profit-motive here.

On the other hand, AID does not uphold the buying and selling of human life. In Anderson’s words: “The semen donor sells only a product of his body, not his child, and does not initiate the act of conception.” Therefore, we can chalk out a clear difference between ‘accepted practices’ (like adoption and AID), and surrogate motherhood.

A common reason why couples would opt for surrogate motherhood over adoption is the shortage of children that are available and also the difficulty of qualifying as adoptive parents. The truth is that there is only a shortage in ‘healthy white children’.

There are plenty of children of other races, including the handicapped children. These are the children that desperately need families. As Anderson rightly said, “We should be wary of the racist and eugenic motivations which make some people rally to the surrogate industry at the expense of children who already exist and need homes.”

One might say that giving the surrogate mother the option to keep her child could solve the above problems. Even if she had the option, it would be useless as her contract would then imply that she is not to love her child, for the only reason why a mother would willingly part with her child would be if she didn’t love it (or if she thought she was incapable of raising it, but that is seldom the case).

As Anderson states: “And what judgment do these norms make of a mother who, out of love for her child, decides that she cannot relinquish it? They blame her for commercial irresponsibility and flighty emotions.”

She is also somewhat pressured into giving her child away as she had given her word and keeping the child would mean breaking a legal promise. This state of confusion wouldn’t allow her to act rationally.

In conclusion it can be said that the introduction of market norms automatically converts children and women to objects of use.

They are no longer considered humans but mere commodities. Thus, commercial surrogate motherhood, according to the “In The Matter Of Baby M” ruling of the Supreme Court of New Jersey on February 3, 1988, “guarantees the separation of a child from its mother…it totally ignores the child…and it does all of this, it accomplishes all its goals, through the use of money.”

Surrogate motherhood should be a mutual agreement to create, and raise human life.

It should not be a service that is offered in exchange for monetary benefit, but out of emotional consent.

Yes, this will probably shrink the supply of surrogate mothers, but then again there is always adoption—those kids deserve a family more than any child who hasn’t been born yet.

9 COMMENTS

  1. This article is just incredibly sexist and frankly I’m offended by this in so many ways. This is not the first of Shah’s works that has greatly bothered me but I’ve reached my limit and something needs to be said. Did you actually speak with surrogate mothers or did you just assume you knew how they felt and only (poorly) cited one *male* economist? Let’s look at this piece by piece for a second:

    “Most often, a surrogate mother does not have enough information to make a rational decision, as she does not know what it means to be separated from her newborn. Therefore, her consent cannot be considered valid due to a lack of information”

    This is untrue. Women who volunteer to become surrogates usually meet the parents they are helping long before even accepting the role of surrogate, and are fully aware of what pregnancy entails and how the process will occur, something I fully believe you are unaware of.

    You say that children of surrogates will somehow feel unloved for being “bought… off the market”. I was a child of this nature and am happy knowing that my parents even went to such lengths to have me conceived in the first place.

    You claim that “surrogate motherhood effectively destroys a family before creating another, as it first separates the mother from her newborn child”. What of parents who cannot physically have children, be it a same-sex couple or an infertile heterosexual couple?

    And how *dare* you insist that “most (not all) of them are either punishing themselves for not having fulfilled parental responsibilities in the past, or view pregnancy as a way of feeling ‘special’ and ‘appreciated’. In reality, these women are treated as mere objects”? How many women did you *actually* speak to before making this assumption? How many surrogate mothers? Did you consult any of them at all before making such a blatantly wrong generalization?

    Adopting families are, you say, “seldom concerned about the surrogate mother’s well-being”. Does this include the majority of parents who frequently check in with their surrogates to make sure that they are happy and healthy? Does it?

    I’d also like to talk about your sentence here:

    “There are plenty of children of other races, including the handicapped children.”

    Do you know how to write? I’d like to let you know, as a friend, that “handicapped” is not a race.

    You say that a woman only would “willingly part with her child… if she didn’t love it (or if she thought she was incapable of raising it, but that is seldom the case)”. Again, did you actually bother speaking to women about this or are you just some teenage boy who assumes he knows what all women think and therefore doesn’t bother to ask for their opinions? The majority of women who are forced to give up their children do so due to the fact that they cannot care for them, be it that they cannot afford to care for a child or fell that the child will not be safe. And not all of these women are forced to give children away: some are uncomfortable with or are unable to get an abortion and try to find safe homes for the children that they did not intend to have.

    If you’re going to write about women’s opinions, maybe try to actually find out how women feel. Maybe don’t only cite a single elitist male economist. Maybe stay out of anything regarding childbirth if you aren’t the one bearing children.

    I’m like a sentence short of dropping the mic here and I’m too fed up to get more into this but I feel you’ll find I did a better job writing and quoting than you. I hope you take others into consideration before writing something as horrible as this for the public again.

  2. I appreciate that you actually took the trouble to read the entire article. Your comments are valid and well argued.

    Firstly, I want to clarify that nothing in this article was intended to be sexist in any way. If males had the biological capability of childbirth, my views would remain unchanged. Nothing about this article is concerned with gender, or at least not intended to. I apologize if this perspective offended you in any way – it was most definitely not my intention. I personally believe that economic markets are the best way to trade. This article is simply aimed to add perspective, arguably construed and regressive, but a new perspective nonetheless. That being said, I agree that suggesting that commercial surrogacy should be illegal is a broad claim, and on hind-side, I agree I may have overstepped there.

    Most of the “assumptions”, as you call them, in this article are based on Anderson’s argument. Yes, he is male, but this is not about sexism. It is about a market for children. Given the reputed economist that he is, and the critical acclaim that his works have received, it is safe to say that his research is comprehensive.

    When I say a surrogate mother does not have enough information about childbirth, I am saying that, often, a surrogate mother has not experienced it physically. It is one thing to be “prepared” for the process. Sadly, no amount of theoretical preparation can assure how an individual will respond to a real life situation. She may meet with whoever she wants and attend as many talks on pregnancy as she please, but the fact remains that nobody knows how “prepared” she until she actually reaches the time of separation from her child. Before you ask me how I know this, I have cited a rather famous Supreme Court case that talks about a surrogate mother who decided to keep her baby, and was sued by the “legal” parents on the grounds that she was breaching her contract. This is what I mean by a lack of information (experience) which may suggest that she is “unable to give consent”.

    About the well-being of the child: It is a conceptual possibility, and possibly a likely outcome. You are an example of a surrogacy that turned out well. That does not take away from the possibility that some children feel the opposite. This does not happen to every child, obviously, but there are many children who (albeit wrongfully) do form these ideas in their heads.

    About what you said regarding homosexual couples or infertile couples: I explicitly say that surrogacy is fine as long as there is no monetary transaction. Why? Because this should not be an economic transaction. What it should be is “emotional consent”. The moment you bring money into the equation, you need economic consent, which requires complete information (in this case, the experience of being separated from your child) Also, I have talked about adoption as another option. Everybody has the right to have a family, but the means by which this is achieved should be ethically sound.

    About your paragraph on women being treated as objects: Anderson has done research, and my claim is based off of his work. And I clearly specify that “not all” cases are as described. Can you tell me that all surrogate mothers have not gone through this? No. There are more than plenty of cases where the surrogate mothers are mistreated.

    To answer your question on the mother’s well-being (“Adopting families are, you say, “seldom concerned about the surrogate mother’s well-being”. Does this include the majority of parents who frequently check in with their surrogates to make sure that they are happy and healthy? Does it?”) I would say no, it does not include them. I not sure if most parents do this, but I know that a lot of them do not. My point is that a lot of them don’t – that is what we are focussing on.

    I know that “handicapped” is not a race. I used that sentence to contrast two things that I had mentioned in a previous sentence – “healthy white children”. Here, “races” and “handicapped” work in the same sentence – “race” contrasting “white”, and “handicapped” contrasting (mentally) “healthy”. If you have a problem with the grammar of this article, please contact the editors.

    “The majority of women who are forced to give up their children do so due to the fact that they cannot care for them, be it that they cannot afford to care for a child or fell that the child will not be safe. And not all of these women are forced to give children away: some are uncomfortable with or are unable to get an abortion and try to find safe homes for the children that they did not intend to have.” Yes, I agree. That is why I specified “or she thought she was incapable of raising it” in parenthesis. I understand that this is largely the case, but cases where mothers look upon their children as a burden, either due to gender or their financial situation, are rampant, at least where I come from. Then again, I used this as a sentence that highlights the implication of the contract. I would request you to re-read that paragraph and see if it speaks to you differently. Understand that it is not literally my opinion but a conceptually possible conclusion that a judgmental can make.

    This is not a competition about who the better writer is. You did a great job in forming your arguments and structuring your sentences – kudos. I know when to appreciate good writing. However, whether you did a better job than me is highly irrelevant in this argument. I am not making assumptions on how women feel – that is something few of us can begin to understand. I simply raised a question, backed by strong claims, backed by comprehensive articles, which was backed by extensive research. You also forget that I cited a Supreme Court case. I don’t know if you can call that sexist. In fact, sexism means to discriminate on the grounds of gender. How have I done that at all? If anything I have attempted to argue against paying women for doing something that should be done out of love. Adding a monetary benefit is degrading, as it implies that to be the motive, which it shouldn’t be.

    I appreciate that you bothered to read this article and express your views, instead of keeping silent and making assumptions. If you are unhappy about anything else, I would be more than happy to clarify my intentions and implications.

  3. I’m extremely upset with the fact that you repeatedly use the feminist argument of bodily autonomy to try and dismantle feminist ideals.

  4. This article is primarily focussed on “commercial” surrogate motherhood. Surrogate motherhood itself has nothing wrong with it. The focus is on whether it should be a monetary transaction, which is similar to existing debates regarding the human organ market. It is the same ethical question. Surrogate motherhood, like donating organs, is great. However, making it a monetary transactions alters morality. Is it okay to purchase an organ when it really should be about giving, without requiring any compensation?

  5. I, a male, found this article offensive due to it being based upon false claims and poorly made assumptions. One example is the fact that you claim a surragote mother has not physically experienced child birth. That’s just not true. One of the first requirements of being a surrogate mother is you are currently raising a child you gave birth to. The human agency of this complex process should not be told through the work of an economist but by the women who were not physically capable of starting a family, the women who saw the couples they could help realize a dream, and the families currently formed with the aid of a surrogate mother. Because 99% of the time a surragocy is a mutual agreement to help bring life and make a family.

  6. That may well be true to the United States. We are not being specific to a nation here. The plight of surrogate mothers in less-developed nations (which is a large population, you would agree) such as India is extremely exploitative in the aforementioned ways. I don’t think this sort of discussion can be confined to a particular nation, specially not the arguably most developed and progressive one. The crux of this argument is based on the world in general, not the United States alone.

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