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India's reproductive assembly line
May 19, 2012 8:42 AM   Subscribe

If you asked me two years ago whether I’d have a baby and give it away for money, I wouldn’t just laugh at you, I would be so insulted I might hit you in the face,” said Indirani, a 30-year old garment worker and gestational surrogate mother.
posted by latkes (89 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
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The willing ignorance of rich ladies going to India to use these women's bodies....The argument that "oh these women should be proud that they're helping me" and the whole "I'm helping poor ladies and they're learning so much from me!" stuff just makes me sick.
posted by discopolo at 8:56 AM on May 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


This was an interesting story, but overall, the recent proliferation of media coverage of surrogacy -- NPR did a four-part series recently -- strikes me as way out of proportion to how common it is. At about 1400 surrogate births a year in the entire U.S. (not sure how many in India) we're probably seeing what, 1 article per 50 babies? It seems a little like the media are using it to promote a backlash narrative about spoiled old yuppie careerists who waited too long to reproduce exploiting younger, fertile women.
posted by Ralston McTodd at 9:12 AM on May 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


a backlash narrative about spoiled old yuppie careerists who waited too long to reproduce exploiting younger, fertile women.

^^^I don't really have a problem with this.
posted by hermitosis at 9:20 AM on May 19, 2012 [8 favorites]


We already mine India for so much cheap labor, it does not surprise me someone thought to get some delivery as well.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:22 AM on May 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't think it's fair to demonize women hoping to find a surrogate in India or wherever to give birth to a child for them. The biological clock - sheer biology - can make women think and feel and do crazy things, often out of despair.

It does not make this practice right, though.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:28 AM on May 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


^^^I don't really have a problem with this.

I do, because it's one more way the system tries to pit women against each other. Infertility is a real and horrible disease that can wreck lives and marriages. While I am bothered by the practice of surrogacy (particularly foreign surrogacy), I think the narrative of "haw haw look at all the dumb feminists who wasted their fertility on stupid careers and are now paying the price!" is absolutely loathsome.
posted by KathrynT at 9:43 AM on May 19, 2012 [33 favorites]


I don't think it's fair to demonize women hoping to find a surrogate in India or wherever to give birth to a child for them. The biological clock - sheer biology - can make women think and feel and do crazy things, often out of despair.

While I can understand that this is kind of a moral gray area (if a surrogate doesn't feel she's being exploited, is it ethical? Can you ever be sure she's not being exploited?) let's not make women out as slaves to their biological clocks in a way that lets them off the ethical hook. If surrogacy is the unethical purchase of another person's reproductive capacities, then how much the potential purchaser might suffer emotionally from childlessness is irrelevant.
posted by emjaybee at 9:44 AM on May 19, 2012 [19 favorites]


We live in a world where it's par for the course that rich people feel totally okay with behaving like the Super Villain in a cheezeball movie.

Seriously, what time's the revolution?
posted by Trochanter at 9:47 AM on May 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


a backlash narrative about spoiled old yuppie careerists who waited too long to reproduce exploiting younger, fertile women.



It isn't about spoiled yuppie careerists who waited too long----that isn't the only cause of fertility problems.

I don't think it's fair to demonize women hoping to find a surrogate in India or wherever to give birth to a child for them. The biological clock - sheer biology - can make women think and feel and do crazy things, often out of despair.

I don't think it's fair to think it is okay to exploit impoverished women and then turn around and pretend that they had a choice.
posted by discopolo at 9:52 AM on May 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


"The biological clock - sheer biology - can make women think and feel and do crazy things, often out of despair."

Because, no matter what else we do, we certainly couldn't acknowledge that women can have rational decision making processes or that women with access 40+ grand of disposable income could possibly have any agency in their lives.
posted by Blasdelb at 9:52 AM on May 19, 2012 [13 favorites]


Google Baby is all about this industry.
posted by gman at 9:56 AM on May 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't see how this is some kind of comeuppance for those rich yuppie women. Nor do I feel they are behaving like super villains.

What the story does is collect various hot button issues that gives everyone something to hate on. Reproductive issues, equality issues, third world exploitation issues, race issues, class issues, sex issues, etc.

Which is very curious, since the article sounds largely quite positive about the process of surrogacy, and I can't find much to disagree with. Its' a little bit difficult to shoehorn in the "rich unfairly exploiting poor women" narrative here.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:00 AM on May 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


Can someone please translate the words Aiyo akka and akka? In context they seem to work like "Insha'Allah" or another interjection.
posted by nicebookrack at 10:15 AM on May 19, 2012


Serious question - are people here coming from the standpoint that surrogate motherhood itself is somehow by definition exploitative? Or are you only talking about basic economic exploitation, that poor women are being paid less for it and under worse conditions than they arguably should be, like third world factory wages, etc.?

Because if it's the former, I'm having trouble understanding why.
posted by kyrademon at 10:15 AM on May 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


They are basically using these women as livestock. I don't see how you can make that a feminist thing.
posted by empath at 10:37 AM on May 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm wondering when the recent evidence that fetal cells not only remain in the mother, but may affect her health and contribute to autoimmune problems and other illnesses will become a part of this conversation. Particularly because there is some evidence that the father's degree of genetic similarity or dissimilarity to the mother - when it's her own egg - is a factor is the effect that the fetal cells have on her health. Is anyone stopping to think twice about using Indian women for surrogacy because of this?
posted by cairdeas at 10:40 AM on May 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Serious question - are people here coming from the standpoint that surrogate motherhood itself is somehow by definition exploitative?

I think you could make that argument, yes. My personal view is that it's murky enough that I would feel uncomfortable doing it, and using the body of someone from a poorer country would make it even less appealing/ok.

Gestation and birth can be hazardous, and possibly psychologically difficult for the woman doing it, and I'm not sure it can ever be ethical to pay someone to take that kind of risk. Is it really that different from selling a kidney? How do we quanitify that in financial terms?
posted by emjaybee at 10:48 AM on May 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


"They are basically using these women as livestock ..."

See, I really don't understand this kind of comment.

Are they not being paid a fair amount and not being provided with the proper care to do it safely? Issue.

If they were being paid a fair amount and being provided with care that provides a reasonable guarantee of safety? Don't see why it would be an issue.

With an overseas factory, the problem isn't that it exists, it's that the wages and conditions suck, no? Why would this be any different?

"Gestation and birth can be hazardous, and possibly psychologically difficult for the woman doing it ..."

Well, sure ... but plenty of jobs have hazards, physiological and psychological. Surely hazards should be compensated for by high pay and reasonable steps to minimize damage? I don't recall in horror at the idea of people working with toxic chemicals, for example, only at the idea of them doing so without every reasonable step being taken to ensure their safety. But a certain degree of risk still exists.
posted by kyrademon at 10:53 AM on May 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


Recoil in horror, not recall in horror, sorry.
posted by kyrademon at 10:54 AM on May 19, 2012


Gestation and birth can be hazardous, and possibly psychologically difficult for the woman doing it, and I'm not sure it can ever be ethical to pay someone to take that kind of risk. Is it really that different from selling a kidney? How do we quanitify that in financial terms?


That definition of risk is pretty broad, and could include a whole array of services that would not likely raise many eyebrows. I think the angle here is goes back to those hot button issues that are deemed "icky" more than anything.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:58 AM on May 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


So, I read the article, and I don't get where all of the "makes me sick," "doesn't make this right," "using them as livestock," comments are coming from.

Are you guys saying you don't think surrogacy is ethical at all? Or is it only a problem when it's international? (Seems a bit arbitrary.) Or only when it's wealthy women hiring poorer women? That does imply a power asymmetry, but then again, that's there whenever anyone hires anyone, just about. Are all employees, most of whom probably wouldn't be doing what they do if they didn't need to make a living, exploited by definition?

Is it really worse to hire an Indian woman to bear your child than to effectively hire her to make your clothes, as we all probably have without even realizing it, under grindingly unpleasant conditions that the surrogate mothers profiled were happy to escape from?

I think there are ethical issues, mostly related to the strong bond that can sometimes form in the process of bearing and giving birth to a child, and the potential trauma of severing that bond, but those are nuanced, and apply to a lot of other situations as well, including adoption in general, and even the practice of hiring nannies. As for the physical hazards, I think those are very comparable to many other kinds of jobs. Are coal miners and football players better off?

Of course we can ask whether these women are being compensated fairly (always a difficult question with international labor issues) and whether they are being treated well (mandatory C-sections seem like a terrible practice, unless there is a much better justification than cited in the article) and whether they are making a truly informed and free choice.

But the "Grrr" reaction to the practice itself makes no sense to me.
posted by OnceUponATime at 11:08 AM on May 19, 2012 [8 favorites]


Can someone please translate the words Aiyo akka and akka? In context they seem to work like "Insha'Allah" or another interjection.

Akka means 'older sister', and aiyo is a general exclamation of a more frustrated nature. The 'akka' here is the writer.
posted by cendawanita at 11:15 AM on May 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


(though I feel like I should backtrack about 'aiyo' a bit, only because it really is a versatile verbal exclamation depending on the occasion.)
posted by cendawanita at 11:19 AM on May 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


In the U.S., anyway, a pregnant woman is about 230 times as likely to be the victim of domestic abuse as she is to be a surrogate. I would guess that the incidence of employment discrimination is even higher. There's a reason that the media like to focus on surrogacy so much. If we keep the conversation on whether or not surrogacy is ethical, rather than on whether studying such a rare practice has anything to contribute to an understanding of our culture, then it becomes a debate over whether women who use surrogates are Selfish Privileged Monsters or Pitiable Baby-Crazed Slaves to Their Biological Clocks. I doubt it's any kind of conspiracy, but for whatever reason, the media love these kind of women-vs.-women narratives. See also: NYT Magazine features about the fraught emotional relationships of mothers to their nannies (just once, I would like to see a piece exploring the depths of the complex feelings of men toward their gardeners. Or really, toward their nannies.)
posted by Ralston McTodd at 11:29 AM on May 19, 2012 [8 favorites]


Is it really worse to hire an Indian woman to bear your child than to effectively hire her to make your clothes, as we all probably have without even realizing it, under grindingly unpleasant conditions that the surrogate mothers profiled were happy to escape from?

It's unlikely there's much free choice going on when a woman lives in poverty and has a husband who doesnt mind exploiting her, but I think being coerced into carrying a child for nine months and suffering through it and it's risks is worse.
posted by discopolo at 11:31 AM on May 19, 2012


It's unlikely there's much free choice going on when a woman lives in poverty and has a husband who doesnt mind exploiting her, but I think being coerced into carrying a child for nine months and suffering through it and it's risks is worse.

Well thank god we have you here to speak for these women, otherwise we might have to actually listen to what they have to say. All employment is slavery, if you're poor enough, and this doesn't seem like such a bad job compared to working in a factory or a workshop.
posted by atrazine at 11:34 AM on May 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


Let's imagine that we developed a way to implant stem cells so that a person could regrow a kidney, and that they were using these women to grow kidneys for kidney transplants. How would you feel about it, then?
posted by empath at 12:03 PM on May 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Indirani observed that while the people who wore the garments she’d worked on would most probably never think about her, she was etched forever in the minds of the intended parents who took the twins she bore.

I struggle a lot with the idea of transnational surrogacy, and all the class and cultural implications wrapped around it. I do worry that these women are being exploited. I do worry that the American and European parents who choose this path might not really understand, or care to understand, the burdens they are placing on the surrogate mother. I do worry that many surrogates feel they do not really have a choice. I could not imagine myself hiring a surrogate under such unfair, unbalanced circumstances.

But damn, I'd bet 90% of the people commenting in this thread are wearing clothes right now that were made by a worker like Indirani. Including me. And yet here we all are, blithely criticizing others for exploitation.

We're all slavers, here. First take the plank out of your own eye, etc.
posted by BlueJae at 12:09 PM on May 19, 2012 [7 favorites]


... I'd want them to be paid a lot of money for it and for there to be a lot of regulations guaranteeing their safety?
posted by kyrademon at 12:09 PM on May 19, 2012


(Last comment was in response to empath's question about kidneys.)
posted by kyrademon at 12:09 PM on May 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Okay, the mandatory C-section part made me go WTF. 1. among a bunch of other reasons, for the mom, vaginal delivery is safer. 2. for the baby-- it's also at 36 to 37 weeks (!!!!). There's a reason that March of Dimes is all over the 39+ campaign - the last few weeks of pregnancy are so important to fetal development of the brain. There's a huge push to stop doing elective inductions/deliveries at 39 weeks or before, particularly "social inductions". To conform to the scheduling needs of the international parents? They seriously can't schedule a later flight closer to the EDD? Potentially wait a week or two if the baby delivers early/late? That's the part that's just bizarre to me.
posted by circle_b at 12:09 PM on May 19, 2012 [8 favorites]


This story contained so many different kinds of fucked-up and wrong and pain that I can't even handle it without crying. What the FUCK kind of options are those? Be abused and exploited... or, be abused and exploited...
posted by windykites at 12:42 PM on May 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


If they were being paid a fair amount and being provided with care that provides a reasonable guarantee of safety? Don't see why it would be an issue.

I guess this makes me an arch-conservative luddite, but I just don't think bearing a child for someone should be an exchange relationship: you gestate, I give you money, you hand off the baby, we're done here. If that is seen as an acceptable cash and carry transaction, what won't be?
posted by phrontist at 12:47 PM on May 19, 2012 [8 favorites]


We're all slavers, here. First take the plank out of your own eye, etc.

So what? Do you expect us to rank societal ills and address them in order?
posted by phrontist at 12:52 PM on May 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


"I just don't think bearing a child for someone should be an exchange relationship: you gestate, I give you money, you hand off the baby, we're done here."

Well ... I guess this is the fundamental disconnect I'm experiencing here.

Why not? What's wrong with that?

I honestly don't understand the objection.
posted by kyrademon at 12:58 PM on May 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


The argument is similar to the argument against selling babies - do have any problem with that? It is not a question of risk and reward - selling babies, kidneys or pregnancies is unethical (or it isn't).
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 1:01 PM on May 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, and in response to the "is surrogacy unethical" thing... um, especially if there's money involved, yes. I feel the same way about selling blood, organs, etc. Donations only, please. However, I feel more strongly about selling humans- er, excuse me, surrogacy. I place the responsibility on the buyers and facilitators, and the system that has made this a neccessary course for desperate impovershed people, rather than on the impovershed humans choosing this route. And when I say "selling humans," please don't think I'm talking only about the babies. I'm not.

Now, I personally think that surrogacy is an incredibly immoral, selfish, sickening decision
If you really can't make babies, fucking get over yourself and the idea that "oh, but I want a baby like ME because I'm so precious", and adopt. Your genes obviously aren't that great, your kid is not guaranteed to be like you regardless, there's nothing special about you, and there are plenty of children out there who need homes. In fact, the world is horrifically overpopulated. Take a fucking hint.
posted by windykites at 1:02 PM on May 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


Both sides were rather passionately and intelligently argued in this discussion.
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 1:07 PM on May 19, 2012


If you really can't make babies, fucking get over yourself and the idea that "oh, but I want a baby like ME because I'm so precious", and adopt.

Adoption often takes much longer, is much more precarious, and is at least as expensive if not more so than fertility treatment. Until you've adopted a child yourself, I'd be careful about dispensing this advice in such a flippant manner.
posted by KathrynT at 1:15 PM on May 19, 2012 [13 favorites]


"... selling babies, kidneys or pregnancies is unethical (or it isn't)."

Sure, but I would kind of like to know WHY people might think it's inherently unethical, beyond "it squicks me out", my reaction to which is simply ... OK, don't do it, then. So far I either haven't seen a lot of arguments or the arguments don't make a lot of sense to me.

I can see how it CAN be exploited, which is why I've been at pains to say it requires regulation and fair pay. Selling humans? The babies aren't being set to work on a slave plantation. The surrogate mothers, in the situation where I would consider it ethical, aren't being forced to do it. But assuming you don't think that the fact that people must find work of some kind to stay alive in and of itself exploitative (an argument I don't dismiss, but can't see why this would be a special case, either) ...

People sell their time, their health, their creative efforts, their laobr, their energy, and I don't see why renting out space in your uterus is particularly more horrifying than any of the rest of it.
posted by kyrademon at 1:19 PM on May 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


I guess this makes me an arch-conservative luddite, but I just don't think bearing a child for someone should be an exchange relationship: you gestate, I give you money, you hand off the baby, we're done here. If that is seen as an acceptable cash and carry transaction, what won't be?

This is basically the objection that most people have to prostitution (those who object.) I go back and forth on it myself. I feel like nobody should ever be forced into it, but if someone really chooses to do it freely, why shouldn't they? And I guess that's basically how I feel about this. Maybe most prostitutes probably do not choose it freely. And maybe these women don't either. Maybe you can't choose this freely unless your other options include some other means of affording a middle-class, first-world lifestyle? But then, if surrogacy (or prostitution) really is your least-worst option, who am I to tell you not to do it?

On preview: windykites, that is incredibly insensitive. To imply that the desire to have a child is nothing but narcissism is to insult every parent who has ever lived. Infertile people aren't monsters for wanting what many, many people want, and are willing to sacrifice and risk for. Adoption is fraught with its own ethical dilemmas of this kind: you are still asking someone, who may feel as if she has no choice, to bear a child for you and give it away. Only in that case the child is biologically related to her, and the decision may be even more painful. Domestic adoption is a tremendously slow, expensive, and risky process, and international adoption raises even more issues of power and exploitation than international surrogacy, I think. You need to educate yourself, and you need to make an effort to feel some empathy. For many people raising a family is a deep and important part of what makes life meaningful, and to be denied that opportunity can be nearly soul-destroying.
posted by OnceUponATime at 1:22 PM on May 19, 2012 [13 favorites]


But then, if surrogacy (or prostitution) really is your least-worst option, who am I to tell you not to do it?

You make a good argument to criminalize the demand side of both of these activities.
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 1:24 PM on May 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


You make a good argument to criminalize the demand side of both of these activities.

Thereby taking away that least-worst option, and leaving the women with only the worse-worst options?

I don't know. Like I said, I go back and forth.
posted by OnceUponATime at 1:28 PM on May 19, 2012


WindyKites, do you understand the meaning of the term 'privilege'? Men have male privilege, straight people have heterosexual privilege, able bodied people have able-bodied privilege.

Being infertile is a disability in the same sense that being blind or deaf are disabilities. Being able to reproduce is the essential point of all living things. People who are infertile are not able to reproduce in the same way that everyone else is, and if they take steps to alleviate this disability, it is no different than a blind person seeking treatment to restore their vision, or deaf people getting cochlear implants.

Your statement that they need to get over themselves is exceptionally insulting, and absolutely no different than telling a blind person to get over it and accept being blind because there is nothing special about themselves that they deserve to be sighted.
posted by PigAlien at 1:28 PM on May 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


There are people who actually want to be prostitutes and enjoy the work. I'm friends with some of them.

If the goal is to make that and surrogate motherhood not be the option of least-worst option for people who don't really want to do it, wouldn't the ideal be to make the other options better?

Shouldn't we be expanding people's choices rather than restricting them, if that's the concern?
posted by kyrademon at 1:32 PM on May 19, 2012


When discussing if something is ethically right or not, it's not really relevant to point out other less ethical and/or common things.
posted by abx1-se at 2:20 PM on May 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Well the problem isn't surrogacy per se, it's the disgusting imbalance of power and income that allows westerners to treat human beings as baby or organ factories or slaves. Banning surrogacy isn't really a great solution, and wouldn't solve the problem.
posted by empath at 2:24 PM on May 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


Your statement that they need to get over themselves is exceptionally insulting, and absolutely no different than telling a blind person to get over it and accept being blind because there is nothing special about themselves that they deserve to be sighted.

I strongly disagree with this. Infertility may hurt emotionally, but it is not a disabling handicap in the way you imply. It does not shorten anyone's life or keep them from participating fully in a career. It does not introduce the kind of risks and struggles blindness or deafness would.
posted by emjaybee at 2:25 PM on May 19, 2012 [11 favorites]


I'm really looking forward to artificial wombs.
posted by bq at 2:31 PM on May 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm rather surprised at how pro-surrogacy many of the comments here are.
I'd think everyone could agree that a surrogate mom takes certain physical, emotional and social risks. And sure I'll agree that I wouldn't really be able to state that it's wrong to allow a truly willing woman to act as a surrogate.
The problem for me is, with my basic knowledge of human behavior, I know there are some women being coerced. I also know that many of them will deny it and some of them will even believe their own denial. Rich westerners going to the slums of India to exploit the women really underscores the imbalance at work.
Allowing surrogacy allows exploitation of people.
posted by abx1-se at 2:43 PM on May 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


A species needs to reproduce, but an individual doesn't. I don't think comparing infertility to conditions that affect a person's daily life or lifespan is appropriate. That being said, surrogacy doesn't strike me as unethical in all cases, but it's not being done in a vacuum here. The power imbalance is so huge that I don't see how it could possibly be done in a non-exploitive way. There are lots of things that people desperately want but can't have--you don't get to throw out ethics when that thing is a baby.
posted by Mavri at 2:47 PM on May 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


People who are disabled don't generally find treatments that could kill another person. Comparing poverty laden surrogacy to cochlear implants is absurd.

I don't come out totally against it (like i am not oppossed to prostitution in theory), but you can't really say "except for power, money, and social imbalance, it seems fine!" Show me a system that runs ethically and cares as much, if not more, for the surrogate as it does for the parents and this might be a different conversation. Unfortunately, i think you'd be hard pressed to find one, especially one that is international and seeks out wealthy american couples.
posted by nadawi at 2:57 PM on May 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


Banning surrogacy isn't really a great solution,

Surrogacy is not banned in Canada, but paying for it is.
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 3:02 PM on May 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Hey KathrynT

I appreciate the imput. Truthfully, I don't know a lot about the adoption process outside of watching friends navigate it and being adopted myself. However, I didn't intend to imply that it was easy- just that it is preferable, and more moral, than surrogacy.

OnceUponATime- you're right. That did come off as insensitive, and this is one of the occasions where I'm ok with that. I do not feel sensitive towards people who are willing to exploit others because they WANT a specific kind of family. You don't always get what you want. There's just no possible way that i can condone that kind of behaviour to try and force a baby to come into being when there's 7 billion people in the world. Plus, there are many children who never get adopted simply because they are too old, or they have a disability, or the parents insist on a baby that looks like them. How can I possibly feel for people who pass over a kid because that kid is too old, or disabled, or the wrong race, and go for surrogacy instead? I can't. It's absurd.

Adoption does raise a ton of ethical questions, especially international adoption which is riddled with human rights abuses- but I still maintain that adopting unwanted or unsafe children is preferable to surrogacy. Fostering is also a great and beautiful choice. It's true that foster parents have to let the kids go- but parenting is all about sacrifices, isn't it? It's not about what the parents want, it's about the kids.

I'm sure that if I had any friends who had used a surrogate, it might be easier to empathise with their struggle, and I'm sure that surrogate babies are just as sweet and lovely as all the other babies. But I don't and I can't, and even if I did, my empathy might increase, but my opinion wouldn't change.
posted by windykites at 3:37 PM on May 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


I very specifically raised the topic of privilege because it applies here. For you to determine how someone else should feel about their disability is insulting to the person who suffers from it. Why should the infertile person feel resigned to accept their infertility, when most everyone else is fertile? To say that they shouldn't want to have their own biological children is unimportant is to project your own values onto them, but you don't have the right to project your values onto someone else, any more than you have the right to say that gay people shouldn't be allowed to marry because the Bible says they shouldn't.
posted by PigAlien at 3:38 PM on May 19, 2012


And children serve a purpose of more than just procreating. They help take care of their parents, parents form an emotional bond with their children. As we age, having children actually makes us happier and we are healthier and live longer, on average. Sure, people can adopt, but that still doesn't make it acceptable to say that infertile people who want to reproduce are selfish, any more than someone who isn't infertile is selfish, and setting them apart for ridicule and contempt and telling them to get over themselves is an act of disgusting and oppressive and insulting privilege.
posted by PigAlien at 3:40 PM on May 19, 2012


In a nutshell, it's perfectly possible to talk about the ethics of surrogacy without resorting to insulting people who are infertile.
posted by PigAlien at 3:42 PM on May 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why should the infertile person feel resigned to accept their infertility, when most everyone else is fertile?

Should an amputee be allowed to buy a limb from some poor kid from a Delhi slum?
posted by empath at 3:56 PM on May 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


Empath, when a poor kid from Delhi sells her arm, she no longer has said arm. When a surrogate mother carries a baby for someone else, she hasn't 'lost' a baby.

And again, it's beside the point. There are fertile people who choose surrogacy, such as LGBT people. I will repeat -- it is possible to discuss the ethics of surrogacy without insulting or questioning the motives and choices of those who are infertile or otherwise unable to bring their own biological children into the world.
posted by PigAlien at 4:04 PM on May 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Gestation and birth can be hazardous, and possibly psychologically difficult for the woman doing it, and I'm not sure it can ever be ethical to pay someone to take that kind of risk.
No? Pregnancy entails life-threatening risks, but on the same order as 9 months of working as a roofer, airplane pilot, sanitation worker, farmer, or truck driver. It's not nearly as bad as 9 months as a fisherman, logger, or steel worker.
Is it really that different from selling a kidney? How do we quanitify that in financial terms?
Not really that different, no - donating a kidney is only about twice as dangerous as pregnancy - it's up into "fisherman for a year" range. But does that comparison work the way you think it should? The case for kidney sales is much clearer than the case for surrogacy sales or prostitution. Price controls create shortages, and a price limit of $0 is contributing to worsening shortages that kill thousands every year.
I don't think comparing infertility to conditions that affect a person's daily life or lifespan is appropriate.
My daughter has had a much greater effect on my daily life than my ability to walk, and a slightly greater effect than my ability to correct my impaired vision. In hindsight I would have ranked infertility as preferable to total paralysis or blindness but not preferable to total deafness or anything partially ameliorable with a wheelchair. It seems unnecessarily harsh to criticize anyone for having similar preferences and the foresight to realize them in the face of status quo bias.
posted by roystgnr at 4:05 PM on May 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Hey PigAlien- very interesting and insightful comments. I am not as clear as I should be when I get worked up. I should clarify a few things-
I don't think being upset over your infertility is neccesarily bad. I think surrogacy is a selfish solution.
I do believe that the choice to make babies at all is quite selfish. Not unforgivably so, but still very, very selfish. It's a selfishness that's condoned by our society and supported by our biology. So to me, carrying it to the point of surrogacy is selfishness to the Nth degree, and that's part of why it bothers me so much. I imagine that others who have a different starting point might not arrive at the same conclusion.

I think it's interesting that you talk about privilege on this topic. To use your application, fertility is privilege, like white privilege, yes? So should our culture celebrate that some individuals will make contributions other than having children, but are still able to be meaningful and valuable, or simply try to change them? Should I be celebrated because I'm black, or should I have surgery to make me white?

I'd also like to respond to your earlier point. It may be the purpose of all living things to reproduce. But a huge part of that (arguably, all), is merely to keep the species alive. We're at a point now where our species is actually threatened by our constant reproduction. Besides that, we're able to express our reproductive urges in other forms of creativity. We've evolved enough that our lives can have multiple purposes, and producing more little humans doesn't have to be the only one.
posted by windykites at 4:06 PM on May 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Roystgnr - where are you getting the numbers for the "twice as dangerous as pregnancy"? Is that pregnancy in the United States? Because these women aren't getting their obstetric care in the United States (in addition to like I mentioned above, having not-indicated early surgical delivery is crazypants).
posted by circle_b at 4:10 PM on May 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'd like to add that the choice to procreate isn't strictly a selfish act of spreading one's own genes. Procreation is an act of love. People with reproductive privilege don't necessarily understand that at first. When two people reproduce, they are not passing on perfect copies of their own genes. They are creating a unique combination of a random set of their genes into a wholly unique individual, which represents traits of both parents.

When I look in the mirror, I see both of my parents. When they look at me, they see both of themselves in me. Now, that may seem obvious to most people, but let me say that as a gay man, it is sad and painful to me to think that I will never be able to create a child with the man I love that is a combination of both of our genes. That is a privilege that heterosexual, fertile couples have that I don't, and I feel sad that I can't express my love for my partner by bringing someone into this world that is half him and half me.

I am not in a financial position to do surrogacy or adoption, but if I could, I would do both. I believe adoption is very important, and I believe truly that I would love any adopted child as much as my own biological child. I don't believe reproduction itself is harming our planet. It is the utilization of our resources. This planet has enough resources to accommodate everyone, just not at the standard of living that we all enjoy here in the west.

Either way, I won't let anyone judge or demean my desire to procreate with my partner because that desire is no different than anyone else's.
posted by PigAlien at 4:40 PM on May 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Having dominion over one's body is among the most important rights one can have. This would seem to include the power to keep a pregnancy, or end one as one sees fit. Even for money.

Unfair exploitation seems to be one thing people are concerned about. Yet the article doesn't make it out to be much of an issue. There's no evidence of coercion, and the argument that the women involved are being coerced because the alternative is worse, makes almost everyone on the planet among the coerced. After all, how many of us work because we have no choice but to work?

There are health risks involved. Yet there are health risks involved with plain old fashioned pregnancy, in cases where absolutely no money is exchanged at all. If pregnancy could be acceptable risk when there is no compensation at all, why is it less acceptable when there is compensation?

There is concern that people reproduce too much already. Yet people who resort to surrogacy are among the least of the offenders, and among the best capable of providing for the child. Additionally, removing reproductive choice clearly seems the wrong direction to take.

Ultimately, this practice allows childless couple to raise children, and allows women who very much need money a way to make for positive outcomes for both parties involved.
posted by 2N2222 at 4:48 PM on May 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


People with reproductive privilege don't necessarily understand that at first.

I think perhaps people with enough economic privilege that they can rent someone's uterus for 9 months doesn't understand what it's like to have to choose between feeding your family and bearing a child for someone else.
posted by empath at 5:12 PM on May 19, 2012 [9 favorites]


(between NOT feeding your family)
posted by empath at 5:12 PM on May 19, 2012


Wow. May I say this about "reproductive privilege" as someone with severe PCOS and hormonal problems as a result of a severe eating disorder before and through puberty, who is probably not capable of reproduction? I am so sick of people misusing and misappropriating the concept of privilege to justify mistreating other people, and trying to use it as a shield to avoid ever having conversations about whether their actions are problematic, or ever receiving criticism for them. Oh no, we wealthy westerners are being oppressed by impoverished Indian women with their REPRODUCTIVE PRIVILEGE OMG!!!@#$@#@$% Don't you dare say anything about how they might have it worse, nothing is gained by playing PRIVILEGE OLYMPICS.

It has become THE way for liberals to deny and avoid conversations about their own advantages in life and scutiny of their actions. It drags discourse down to a inane, worthless, and sickening level. It's idiotic. Fuck this.
posted by cairdeas at 5:35 PM on May 19, 2012 [11 favorites]


PigAllen, I'm a dyke not a gay man but I don't think I have "reproductive privilege". I mean, sure I possess a womb, but it takes more than that. I had a lot of friends say no when I asked for sperm and I couldn't have afforded a sperm bank. I share a lot of the squeamishness about surrogacy voiced here.

What I found interesting about this article was the connection it made between surrogacy and other labor. I'm not sure surrogacy is any more dangerous than factory work, but it gives a lot of people pause to think about renting out your body so explicitly. It forced me to think about the way the requirement of working other dangerous, humiliating, and otherwise problematic jobs is also dehumanizing.
posted by latkes at 5:39 PM on May 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


There are health risks involved. Yet there are health risks involved with plain old fashioned pregnancy, in cases where absolutely no money is exchanged at all. If pregnancy could be acceptable risk when there is no compensation at all, why is it less acceptable when there is compensation?

Because taking a risk for your own happiness is different than taking a risk for another person's happiness. And very different from taking advantage of extreme economic privilege to pay someone who is desperate enough to take those risks.

Ultimately, this practice allows childless couple to raise children, and allows women who very much need money a way to make for positive outcomes for both parties involved.

Unless the woman bearing the pregnancy dies or is disabled or damaged by her pregnancy. Then only the purchaser benefits.

Not every fishing trip a fisherman takes will involve risking their life. But every pregnancy a woman goes through does.
posted by emjaybee at 6:03 PM on May 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


circle_b, you make a very good point, and indeed I am comparing numbers in the US to numbers in the US (mostly because of greater familiarity on my part and better record keeping to look through). Pregnancy in India looks like it's up to 20 times more dangerous, whereas occupational fatality rates (average - I can't find detailed breakdowns) seem to be only 2 or 3 times higher.
to have to choose between feeding your family and bearing a child for someone else
This is another argument that seems to be intended as a "con" for allowing paid surrogating, but turns into a "pro" upon examination. If that's really the choice being faced, then wouldn't anyone banning the latter option be practically murderers? Even shaming infertile women into avoiding the offer would start to sound morally questionable.
posted by roystgnr at 6:22 PM on May 19, 2012


Not every fishing trip a fisherman takes will involve risking their life.
Yes, it will. Every trip to the store involves risking your life. We just choose to ignore most such risks (including in pregnancy - ever heard anyone append "and I hope it doesn't kill you!" to "congratulations!"?) once the odds drop low enough.
posted by roystgnr at 6:26 PM on May 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Cairdeas, it seems from my point of view you are bringing other issues to the conversation that weren't raised by me. The privilege I am referring to is that of those in this conversation who are questioning the motives of those who would like procreate like everyone else. I will repeat for the third time now: "it is possible to discuss the ethics of surrogacy without insulting those without reproductive privilege."

Ass for economic privilege, that is a perfectly legitimate topic, but don't forget intersectionality. One can be privileged and not privileged at the same time. I am white and male, but also gay. Being gay doesn't excuse my white or male privilege, but people don't have any right to use my white, male privilege to attack me for being gay, and you can't attack people with economic privilege for being infertile our unable to reproduce.
posted by PigAlien at 6:45 PM on May 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Here's a thing. How about we force these people to, as it were, Shop American? That way both sides of the issue can be examined where there is a legal structure in place to work out the ethics?

Why India? Why India in the first place?

Also: If we want to give Indian women a better life, why don't we raise a tax and cut them a check? Why don't we just help them?
posted by Trochanter at 6:46 PM on May 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


Metafilter is a pretty pro-choice place, until it's a choice Metafilter disagrees with.
posted by mr_roboto at 7:03 PM on May 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


If we want to give Indian women a better life, why don't we raise a tax and cut them a check? Why don't we just help them?

This argument keeps popping up in the thread, and I have to confess I find it fairly confusing. Of course it would be better if so many Indians weren't facing grinding poverty; that's just not particularly interesting. The real question is, given that many of them are, is it immoral to conduct the economic transaction involved in surrogacy?

Look, this woman made $4,000 from the transaction. I bet many, perhaps most, of the people in this thread could pay her $4,000 over the course of a year or two without any truly dramatic impact in their lifestyle, and she'd probably be happy to take the money and not deal with the hassle of the pregnancy. But the fact is, we won't (if you are the rare generous soul who does give that sort of money to the poor, my hat is genuinely off to you. But you're a definite minority).

Let me put it a different and more direct way: If you were to ask Indirani who has done more good for her life, the family for whom she was a surrogate or well-meaning people who say they would raise taxes to give more to the poor (but don't actually usually donate very much), in honesty, who do you think she would say? And why is it moral to deny her that choice for a better life?

I have to say, the arguments in this thread strike me as the alternate-universe version of the simplistic free-trade argument that you can almost always compensate the "losers" by reallocating the productivity gains from trade, which is all well and good except this doesn't actually happen. Similarly, it's great to argue for giving more money to poorer countries to make her better off than she is as a surrogate if there were a chance in hell we actually would do that. But we almost certainly won't, so who cares?
posted by dsfan at 7:20 PM on May 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


This argument keeps popping up in the thread, and I have to confess I find it fairly confusing. Of course it would be better if so many Indians weren't facing grinding poverty; that's just not particularly interesting. The real question is, given that many of them are, is it immoral to conduct the economic transaction involved in surrogacy?

This does seem to be the key problem. Every objection people are raising here (exemplified, I think, in emjaybee's comment above) can be applied to all sorts of terrible work the poor often turn to for survival. Poor people are often paid to take terrible work that involves high chances of extreme danger and even death under conditions of extreme power/economic inequality.

Yes, it's terrible that poor women are put in the position of having to consider this, but they are in the position of having to consider many unpleasant types of work that they likely would never choose otherwise. Ideally this situation should not exist, the choice should not be surrogacy or working in a sweat shop or a mine or other terrible place under terrible conditions. There should not be poverty and imbalance. But there are.

f you're not against banning all of those types of occupations, then why are you for banning this choice? This seems to me like the libertarian arguments that take place in Perfectly-Spherical Free Market Utopia and not in the real world about how things should be in theory or ideally.

The core issue seems to be whether or not surrogacy inherently involves exploitation.

If so, if the nature of surrogacy is such that it simply can't happen without exploitation unlike factory work or mining or other dangerous work, then it should be banned.

If not, then there seems to be no basis for denying poor women the agency to choose whether to take the risk or not, no matter how disgusting or selfish you may find the transaction. Poor women are not "cattle", they are people with the right to decide what to do with their bodies.
posted by Sangermaine at 7:50 PM on May 19, 2012


"I will never be able to create a child with the man I love that is a combination of both of our genes. That is a privilege that heterosexual, fertile couples have that I don't,"

If we are treating infertility as a disability, I'm not sure that 'privelege' is the appropriate term. Are all sighted people priveleged? Everyone who can walk?

If pregnancy could be acceptable risk when there is no compensation at all, why is it less acceptable when there is compensation?

Because money is not commensurate with every aspect of human life. Should criminals be able to buy their freedom from prison? That money could do an awful lot of good...

Ivan Illich used the example of making use of the organs of executed prisoners. He asserted that the reason not to do this is because "it is indecent".
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 7:59 PM on May 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Thanks for the translation, cendawanita!
posted by nicebookrack at 8:01 PM on May 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Why India? Why India in the first place?

Because life is cheap in India, obviously. And once surrogates there demand too much money or care, they'll rent wombs in the Phillipines or elsewhere that it's even cheaper.
posted by empath at 8:36 PM on May 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


f you're not against banning all of those types of occupations, then why are you for banning this choice?

Who says I"m not. I don't think they should be allowed to work in dangerous mines or chemical plants or child prostitution or any of the many other exploitive jobs that people in the third world are more or less forced into to earn a living.
posted by empath at 8:38 PM on May 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


As mentioned, surrogacy is legal is Canada, but paying for it is not. Which is why I find it confusing that the Canadian government recognises children born in India from paid surrogates as mentioned in this article. The horror stories, of the twins rejected because they DNA test proved they were not related to the Canadian couple, and the lack of free medical after-care in the original post, makes me wish that if India is not willing to regulate or create laws to reduce exploitation on the supply side, then the countries that are creating the demand need to step up to reduce the exploitation through laws and regulations of their own.
posted by saucysault at 8:45 PM on May 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Of course, all sighted people are privileged, and so is everyone who can walk. Have you noticed lately that not every sign or document is in Braille? Not every building has wheelchair access?
posted by PigAlien at 8:59 PM on May 19, 2012


While I can understand that this is kind of a moral gray area (if a surrogate doesn't feel she's being exploited, is it ethical? Can you ever be sure she's not being exploited?) let's not make women out as slaves to their biological clocks in a way that lets them off the ethical hook.

Sorry, some women are slaves to their biology. Sure, it doesn't make outsourcing pregnancy ethical, but acknowledging this does allow us to feel compassion for these "First World yuppy women".
posted by KokuRyu at 9:02 PM on May 19, 2012


Sorry, some women are slaves to their biology. Sure, it doesn't make outsourcing pregnancy ethical, but acknowledging this does allow us to feel compassion for these "First World yuppy women"

Gah! Please stop! I don't want to argue the same side of a debate as someone who makes this argument.

The reason to feel bad for the first world yuppie women (Hi!) is not because they are "slaves to their biology" but because if they, like most people, including most people in India, including most of the surrogate mothers described in the article, dream of meeting "the one," settling down, and raising children who will be the all-consuming loves of their lives, the companions of their old age, and their legacy on earth after death... And they're shit out of luck unless they can find someone, somewhere, willing to bear those children and then give them up.

That's really hard to find, whether you're talking about adoption or surrogacy. And giving up the prospect of raising children is not a minor sacrifice. It's the major goal in life for many, many people, whose "careers" are really just a way to support a family, whose hobbies provide them entertainment but not fulfillment. It's not everyone's dream, but it's such a common dream, all over the world, at all times in human history, in all races and economic classes, for men as well as women, for many gay people as well as straight people, that it is almost meaningless to call it "selfish." It's just human. (In the same way that liking sweets and lying in the sunshine are "human" traits, though those who don't are just as human, just not as typical.) Children do have more day to day impact on your life than your race (in most places) or even your economic status.

The woman interviewed in the article, Indirani, knew the value of the gift she was giving to the couple she was bearing a child for. She has children of her own. For all of the differences between them, she shared that desire with them. She felt compassion for them, and not because they were "slaves to their biology."
posted by OnceUponATime at 3:13 AM on May 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


Thank you, OnceUponATime! I couldn't have said it better myself. I had similar thoughts in my head that weren't crystalizing. I find it interesting that so many here want to dehumanize the surrogate mothers in the story simply because they lack economic privilege, and completely disregard the fact that the surrogates are also capable of feeling compassion for other human beings, even those with greater economic privilege than they themselves have.
posted by PigAlien at 7:04 AM on May 20, 2012


I really wonder how many people arguing ethics in this thread have actually read the article. Indirani, the surrogate in question, very clearly outlines her the reasons behind her choices, and the impact surrogacy has had on her. And very little of her opinions, as a surrogate, match up with what's being outlined here.
posted by Jilder at 7:10 AM on May 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think people who are opposed to paying people for surrogacy may simply be unaware of the logistics of surrogacy at all. Would they prefer that the surrogate mothers /not/ be paid? If so, the surrogate pool would dry up sharply. It's the same thing with egg donation (which occurs in the US as well, without general upset or anger over it.) Egg donation is noble and good, but the fact is that it's also time consuming, painful, and a laborious process. Without being compensated for their time and trouble, there is little reason for them to do so.

It's a really easy narrative to be upset over exploitation of poor women. But what is the solution? Is the solution to outlaw it?

One of the things that sticks out about this is quite simply that the reason India is used by this is because they have tailored their laws to make them more surrogacy-friendly. They are drawing this business to themselves-which means it is something they are not just tolerant of, but aggressively pursuing.
posted by corb at 1:18 PM on May 21, 2012


The more I think about it, the more I disagree with the concept of "reproductive privilege" as used in this thread. In fact, the idea that wealthy first world gay men lack reproductive privilege in relation or comparison to poor (even if not the poorest) third world women who are literally renting out their reproductive function because of economic necessity is a bizarre and upside-down interpretation.

Even if reproductive privilege is measured only by the ease with which someone can produce genetically-related offspring, wealthy US men still have easily-accessible ptions - donor dad being the obvious and free one.

My measure of reproductive privilege (or more correctly, reproductive basic rights) is real and meaningful control your own reproductive function and your own body. Just as factory workers rarely have real and meaningful control of their own bodies, time, and physical health, given the economic pressures and limited economic choices that require them to work dangerous, tedious jobs, third-world surrogates, no matter how empathetic toward others who want to have children, lack meaningful control of their own reproductive function.

And as a gay parent, who was not able to make a baby with someone I love, I have to say, I don't feel less privileged. I just feel different. Honestly, I can't give that much of a damn that half my kid's genetics come from a guy I'm not and was never involved with. So what? I love her.
posted by latkes at 1:39 PM on May 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Latkes, reproduction takes two people. No amount of money will allow a wealthy, first world gay man to reproduce with his male partner. Reproductive privilege applies to couples, as well as individuals. I'd also point out intersectionality. Possessing privilege in one area does not prevent someone from lacking privilege in another. Privilege is not a competition. It is simply not relevant to compare the lack of reproductive privilege of a gay man in the west to the lack of economic privilege in a surrogate mother.

Whether you feel less privileged or not is irrelevant.

Privilege is about the normalization of attributes, whether that is white skin, being male or heterosexual, and our world is set up with the understanding that people can reproduce, and are encouraged to reproduce, with everything from paid parental leave to laws encouraging the protection of children, often at the expense of those without children.

Is it fair that a person who is infertile can't have children, and therefore must work, while the fertile person gets 6 weeks of parental leave? If you adopt, you can often get parental leave, but adoption is expensive. Many infertile people don't have the economic privilege it takes to adopt.

By definition, reproductive function is a form of privilege, as those without it face barriers to accomplish the same things that those who possess it do not. Remember, most people don't consciously want to discriminate against people in wheelchairs, but when they build their houses, they usually don't make them wheelchair accessible. That's because being able to walk and climb stairs is normalized in our society, granting those who can walk privilege over those who can't.

State law varies, but there is no federal requirement that insurance companies cover infertility treatments or adoption. To my knowledge, there is no federal money available either. I'd definitely say infertile people lack privilege, in any context, gay or straight, single or in a couple.
posted by PigAlien at 8:03 PM on May 21, 2012


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