In some cases surrogacy is an amazing gesture of kindness, but in others it can be a human rights violation
22 Enero 2018 17:00
The Kardashian Klan has expanded. Kim and Kanye West announced the arrival of their third child, a baby girl named Chicago West, last week.
Unlike with the couple’s other children, Chicago was born via a surrogate. An unidentified woman carried the power duo’s baby in her womb through the development stage, and eventually gave birth to her at an undisclosed hospital. Although Kim has kept uncharacteristically schtum about their decision to go down the complex route of surrogacy, she revealed on her website that she suffers from placenta accreta - a condition that develops during pregnancy when blood vessels and other parts of the placenta grow too deeply into the wall of the uterus - and was advised not to carry more children. Although a deeply upsetting reality, Kimye’s use of a surrogate has shone a spotlight on the ethical implications of essentially hiring a womb for child development.
There is a myriad of reasons why couples choose surrogacy. Fertility and health problems, age, risk factors, same-sex relationships, economic realities, to name a few. Aside from family members and friends offering to carry children for loved ones, there is often a large economic disparity between those who choose surrogacy to have their own children, and those who offer their body as the vessel for development and eventually birth. This is one of the key reasons why surrogacy can be such a controversial issue, particularly in legislation and government policies. Laws around the use of surrogacy differ from country to country, and even state to state; for example, in California it has been legal to use a surrogate since 1993, but it is illegal in New York; In the UK, surrogacy is legal, but it is illegal to pay someone to do it, however ‘reasonable expenses’ and ‘gifts’ are permitted, which are open to much interpretation.
Such laws and stipulations only extend to using surrogates from and within the same country; it is far more complex and arduous going elsewhere to find willing women. There are more potential violations of human rights when wealthier individuals look to poorer nations as well. In India, for instance, surrogacy clinics that outsource pregnancy to foreigners brought in an estimated $1billion a year, that is until the government told clinics to shut shop to people from overseas in 2015. The subcontinent's ‘rent-a-womb’ booming industry offers economic prosperity to women who may lack education, financial agency and other job opportunities, and there is also the risk that they are forced or coerced into rearing children to earn money for their families. According to The Guardian, approximately 12,000 foreigners still come to India each year to hire surrogates, many from Western countries like the UK.
Commercial surrogacy is illegal in much of Europe’s central bloc, with France, Germany, Italy and Spain (and the UK) generally viewing it as a human rights violation. And yet, surrogacy in less developed regions is still flourishing, and the economic incentives afforded to potential surrogates in developed countries is difficult to regulate. It is unknown how many people in a given country opt for surrogacy given the lack of regulation by government bodies, and the loopholes and grey areas for those looking abroad. The power dynamics between the ‘womb-seeker’ and the ‘womb’ can be so skewed at times that seemingly contractual agreements can start to look a lot like slave labour. But, at the same time, a push to regulate surrogacy further in different nations adds to the policing and control of women’s reproductive rights and bodies. A sort of Catch 22 situation.
There are many ways in which surrogacy is a generous and kind act of will. Women who are able to conceive can help others less fortunate to have a family, for example. This shouldn’t be misrepresented. Women should also be able to choose what they do with their bodies, whether for financial gain or not. It is the corporatisation of the surrogacy industry in places like Los Angeles and London that is unsettling for those opposed to the commercialisation of female bodies, however. To simply sign up to Brilliant Beginnings, one of just three of the UK’s surrogacy agencies, costs £12,000, with the final process coming in at around £40,000 per child. Even if the money doesn’t change hands with the woman carrying the child, surrogacy means big bucks for businesses and lawyers, and usually benefits the privileged few over the less fortunate.