UPDATE (January 16, 2018 / 12:15 pm EST): At press time, Kim Kardashian West has confirmed the birth of a baby girl via surrogate. More details to follow.
Surrogacy is when a person enlists someone else to physically carry and give birth to a baby for them. Depending on the specifics of the situation, a person hiring a surrogate might opt to use their own eggs and/or sperm, use donor eggs and sperm, or some combination of these things. Surrogates will almost always have all of their medical and pregnancy-related costs covered by the person or people who hired them, and sometimes are paid an additional fee for their service. Surrogacy is not legal in all US states (it’s banned in New York, for example), and many states have complex policies, or no explicit laws at all, about surrogacy.
Surrogacy, like pretty much every issue pertaining to reproduction, is a hot button issue, and for some really good reasons. While surrogacy enables some people to have biological children when they otherwise may not be able to, it’s a very expensive ordeal only accessible to the wealthy, and some feel that surrogacy exploits less well-off women for their bodies. While there are pros and cons to be reckoned with, surrogacy is way too complicated to paint as merely good or bad.
People pursue surrogacy for various reasons, and Kardashian West’s desire to seek out a surrogate because of medical issues is not uncommon. Some people are not physically able to conceive or safely carry a pregnancy, which makes surrogacy an attractive option for those who still want to be the biological parent of their child. Same-sex couples also make use of surrogacy as a way to start a family. Still others just want a kid, but don’t want to be pregnant or adopt. Any of these particulars can be valid motivations, but it leaves open the question of whether or not surrogacy is always an ethical option.
Because surrogacy is not legal in all states and in most cases is very expensive, some hopeful parents-to-be turn to other countries to hire surrogates. The surrogacy agency Reproductive Possibilities estimates that the total cost of an in vitro fertilization surrogate pregnancy costs at least between $60,000 and $80,000.
Commercial surrogacy — that is, surrogacy where women are compensated for the service, beyond just coverage of medical expenses — has been legal and popular in India since 2002, where poor women act as surrogates for wealthy Western couples. But according to a 2012 paper published in the Indian Journal of Community Medicine, it’s the agencies that facilitate surrogacy who profit the most, leaving both the new parents and the surrogate financially exploited. The Indian government has taken note, and in 2016 drafted a bill prohibiting commercial surrogacy among foreigners, which hasn’t yet been signed into law as of press time.
Critics of surrogacy will generally argue that surrogacy is wrong because it exploits women’s bodies and reproductive rights. The anti-surrogacy organization Stop Surrogacy Now states on its website that because surrogates are often poor, while those who hire them are very wealthy, surrogacy arrangements are vulnerable to “consent that is under informed if not uninformed, low payment, coercion, poor health care, and severe risks to the short- and long-term health of women who carry surrogate pregnancies.” The group goes to far as to compare surrogacy to the “buying and selling of children,” and says the practice should be banned in all forms.
Kathleen Sloan, a former member of the board of directors of the National Organization for Women (NOW), (who, it should be noted, takes other controversial stances on gender issues, such as calling the movement for trans rights “harmful… to females”) has written that commercial surrogacy has created a “breeder class for the wealthy, be they heterosexual or homosexual.” Sloan also contends that, beyond exploiting women abroad, the demand for surrogacy in the US takes advantage of military wives, who make up 15 to 20 percent of surrogates nationwide, and are about three times more likely to be unemployed than non-military spouses.
However, it’s undeniable that there’s a demand for this service, and not everyone who makes use of it is in the exploitation business. Remember when Phoebe served as a surrogate for her brother and his extremely creepy wife/former teacher? People do that in real life too.
Take Jerry Mahoney, for example. Mahoney is a gay man and writer who always wanted kids, and with the very generous assistance of his husband’s sister, Susie Tappon, Mahoney and his spouse were able to have twins. In this case, Susie donated her own egg, and the rest of the DNA came from Mahoney. In an article about the family published last year, Susie said she was glad she could be involved: “To me, it seemed like a really easy way to help them obtain their dream of children. It’s amazing how life turns out, and sometimes making decisions that aren’t the norm make the ride much more enjoyable.”
But from all sides, critics of surrogacy agree that adoption would be a preferable option. In the same 2012 paper in the Indian Journal of Community Medicine, the authors conclude by arguing that “It seems ironic that people are engaging in the practice of surrogacy when nearly 12 million Indian children are orphans.”
There are tens of thousands of children in the US foster care system as well: According to the children’s rights advocacy group Children’s Rights, there are 428,000 children in foster care on any given day. Adoption is also significantly more affordable, with US adoptions typically costing between $8,000 and $40,000.
Though surrogacy does seem to work for all parties under some circumstances, it’s also clear that there are problems with the practice that have the potential to put everyone involved at risk, especially the surrogate. While it would be difficult to assess this issue as one that should never occur or one that should always be accepted, it’s clear that there are legitimate objections that should be addressed.
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(Photos via Getty)