5 July 2019
By Margaret Akers
What is surrogacy?
Surrogacy is an arrangement where a woman carries a child on behalf of another person or people. In the UK, commercial surrogacy is illegal – meaning it is illegal to pay a surrogate (although you can pay her basic expenses related to the pregnancy and the law is in fact liberally interpreted). It is also illegal to advertise that you are willing to be a surrogate or are looking for a surrogate. However, so called ‘Altruistic Surrogacy’ - where couples turn to friends and family members to act as surrogates – is legal. Once the child is born, the legal mother is the surrogate mother. A formal process of getting a parental order must be undergone to transfer parental rights to the commissioning biological parent of the child and his or her partner, if any. Many UK couples choose to pursue commercial surrogacy internationally, in order to find a surrogate more easily while avoiding potential legal problems. Surrogacy is becoming an increasingly ‘mainstream’ practice. Many celebrities have had children via a surrogate - for example, Kim Kardashian and Cristiano Ronaldo. A contestant on last year’s season of Great British Bake-Off based the decoration of his cookies on his trip to America with his same sex partner to collect his children, carried via surrogate. However, surrogacy is not only for the rich and famous – although it can be very expensive in some countries. More and more British couples are pursuing surrogacy as an alternate means of having children. The reasons are varied – for some it is because of a struggle with infertility; for others (like Kim Kardashian), it is because of complications with previous pregnancies; for male same sex couples, it provides the opportunity to have children than are genetically linked to one parent.
The Problems with Surrogacy
Narratives about surrogacy are being put forward in the media, without asking questions about the ethics of the issue. It has always seemed to me that using the body of another person to carry your child is inherently objectifying, reductive, and wrong. In commercial surrogacy, it is almost a certainty that the woman carrying the child will be in a lower socio-economic position than the person/people pursuing surrogacy – in other words, rich people are using the bodies of poorer people to carry their children. In altruistic surrogacy, the emotional implications of the process would be complicated to manoeuvre, to say the least. The legal complications are also significant. What if the child receives a prenatal diagnosis of disability? Who makes the decisions about continuing the pregnancy? What if the surrogate changes her mind regarding the pregnancy? There is a lot of space for (further) abuse within the system. This is all without mentioning the humanity of the unborn child – or rather, children - involved in the process. If the surrogate is not also the egg provider (in which case artificial insemination could be used), a similar process to IVF would be used to create the embryos for implantation. In this process, multiple embryos will be created – and those not used may be destroyed or frozen. That is a destruction of human life at its earliest stages. The process of surrogacy seems to commodify both women and children, and normalise using the bodies of others to serve one’s own ends. Surrogacy is not without its critics. Many, including many feminists, recognise the problems and abuses within the current system. There have been two feminist commentaries on surrogacy recently published, and each seems to come to a radically different conclusion about the practice.
Full Surrogacy Now?
In May 2019, Verso Books (formerly New Left Books), a radical publishing house, recently released a book called Full Surrogacy Now: Feminism Against the Family by Sophie Lewis. Ms Lewis is a writer and translator – whose translations include works like Communism for Kids. This will perhaps give you an idea of her political outlook. In Full Surrogacy Now: Feminism Against the Family, Ms Lewis argues in favour of an overhaul of the surrogacy system, so that we can realise the ‘radically collectivised, pluralised, communised gestational reality to come’. She sees pregnancy as ‘gestation work’ that should be treated as such within society. Interestingly, Ms Lewis links the problems with surrogacy to problems she perceives in the societal approach to childbearing generally. In her view, the family is ‘a huge source of unpaid labour’ – and presumably those bearing children should be compensated for their ‘gestational work’. While Ms Lewis’ approach may strike you as nonsensical, her book and videos on the subject have garnered some attention – with her book ranking #108 on Amazon of all books related to ethical issues, and #259 of books related to social and family groups after having only been in circulation for two months.
The Abolition of Woman
A book that I would actually recommend you read, which touches on this issue, is The Abolition of Woman: How Radical Feminism Is Betraying Women, by Fiorella Nash. In the chapter titled ‘Outsourcing Reproduction: ART, Surrogacy and the Commodification of the Female Body’ she addresses the issues that surrogacy is fraught with. She raises concerns about women’s health, informed consent, and commodification – particularly with regard to international surrogacy. She writes: ‘Both abortion and commercial surrogacy render it necessary for one of the two human lives involved in pregnancy to become expendable in certain situations— the baby or the surrogate mother— creating an unsustainable ethical paradox which feminists of all political persuasions need to confront but instead choose to ignore’. Ms Nash explores the varied abuses surrogates are vulnerable to, while seeing no ethical means of pursuing surrogacy. She stresses the need of a compassionate response to those facing infertility, without allowing for objectifying and unethical practice. The chapter, and indeed the whole book, is well worth reading. It is time we learn the arguments against surrogacy and other forms of Assisted Reproductive Technology. Increasingly, people are choosing to pursue families using these techniques, and we need to be equipped to put the case against. For example, the Law Commission’s current consultation on surrogacy needs addressing. We need to stand up against the commodification of women and children.