söndag 7 september 2014

When will there be a global ban on baby selling?

Article published in The Australian, 6th of September 2014

The faces of 16 babies, all fathered by the same Japanese billionaire, allegedly to get more votes in an election.Twins conceived explicitly for the benefit of paedophiles. A child left behind in Thailand as the father cancelled the order with the words "Who wants a disabled child?"

Twenty years ago, this would have been found only in a science fiction novel by Margaret Atwood or Aldous Huxley. Today, we call it the surrogacy industry. Valued at 450 million USD per year in India alone. Where babies are bought from the internet. Where you click, send your sperm, choose eggs from a list of races and have your baby delivered. Where the word "mother" has been rendered obsolete, deleted, because she is just a function, a "surrogate", a container. This is the industry that has rendered adoption unfashionable - why adopt an older child with possible traumas, when you can have your own genetic newborn baby delivered right after birth?

For a while, it seemed perfect. We saw images of happy couples, cute babies and selfless, generous surrogates. Surrogacy also had a trendy touch, with Hollywood stars such as Sarah Jessica Parker, Nicole Kidman and Ricky Martin flaunting their babies. Philosophers praised surrogacy - the conservative ones because it "shored up the nuclear family" and the postmodern ones because it "threatened the biological paradigm and questioned the idea of what a family is".

With the Baby Gammy case and the subsequent scandals, the other face of surrogacy has come to light. So, as it is an industry, let's speak about it in market terms. Who are the buyers? Generally, they are rich couples from the West. The majority are heterosexual couples who have tried IVF for a number of years, and not wanting to adopt a child of a different ethnicity, they resort to surrogacy. A growing segment of the buyers are homosexual male couples who wish to have a child without the mother involved. And then there are single men, feeling like having a child of their own, and women who don't want to ruin their bodies through pregnancy and decide to outsource it to a woman of a lower class. (Not unlike the phenomenon of the wet nurse, which curiously is considered to be outdated, yet now she is not feeding the rich woman's child - she is conceiving it.) The childlessness of the buyers is generally considered to be a giant problem, something akin to disability, needing urgent solutions. Their desires - to have a newborn child genetically related to them with the mother being absent - are referred to as "needs" and even as "rights." Perhaps needless to say, nobody worries about the infertility of women in sub-Saharan Africa, even though the rates are the highest in the world.

Who, then, are the sellers? Working class women. Poor women from developing countries. Who often are illiterate, who own nothing and who at times are coerced by their husbands to rent out their uterus. As surrogacy doesn't involve sex it is not seen as immoral as prostitution, although it essentially is the same thing: renting out one's body for money. These women are subject to a number of hormone treatments and experiments. The clinics generally implant 5-6 embryos to increase the success rate, and then abort the undesired ones. And as sympathetic as we are to the buyers' feelings, as indifferent are we to the surrogate's feelings. She carries the child for nine months, yet nobody calls her a mother or reflects on the fact that she might bond with the child, miss it, experience grief as it is taken away. Anthropologist Kalindi Vora has written that Indian surrogacy clinics make the women go through a kind of mental training aimed at "emotionally distance themselves from the fetus and the child they will deliver." The surrogate's function is to help people create families, but once the umbilical chord has been cut, she is out of the picture.She is left with milk in her breasts and nobody to breastfeed.

And finally, what is the product? Children. Yes, that is what commercial surrogacy is: the buying and selling of children. The surrogate is being paid the moment she hands over the baby. If that is not baby trade, I ask, then what is baby trade?

Some might argue that I am being to harsh: not everybody using surrogacy is a paedophile or an eccentric Japanese billionaire. Surely most kids grow up in a loving home, and surely we all have the right to have children? And others, such as the organisation Surrogacy Australia, argue that we must legalise commercial surrogacy here, as people are "having to go overseas because the Australia system is failing them."

First of all, nobody "has to" go overseas. Intended parents are not refugees fleeing war. Second of all, the US experience disproves that a legalisation of surrogacy in Western countries stops the international trade. Americans dominate among the foreign buyers in India, although commercial surrogacy is legal in several American states. Rather, legalisation normalises surrogacy and when buyers want it cheaper, they go abroad. And finally - there is no such thing as a right to have a child. There is, however, a UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, stating that "children should not be separated from their parents unless it is for their own good." Surrogacy violates this convention, as all children born through surrogacy are separated from their mothers - not for the good of the children, but because the intended parents decide so for their sake. All surrogacy children are, therefore, made to be motherless children.

The time to be naive about surrogacy is over. The UN has reported that trafficking for surrogacy is on the increase. Several developing countries are now restricting the industry, and the EU parliament has passed a resolution asking member states to address the "serious problem of surrogacy which constitutes an exploitation of the female body."
I believe we need a global ban on surrogacy. Children are not commodities to be bought and sold. Pregnancy is not a job. Women of the working class and the global South are not breeders. Let us stop this industry now before it grows too big.