Speaking to the Pink News website recently, Nick Clegg said surrogacy could, and should, be a great help for same-sex couples wanting to start a family:
‘Families come in all different shapes and sizes and there will almost certainly be more and more gay couples considering adoption or surrogacy in the future…It’s great that so many gay couples are looking to start a family, and government should support these couples as much as possible.’
Clegg is partly right. Surrogacy is increasingly popular both here and internationally and that looks set to continue with increasing demand from same sex couples and greater acceptability amongst heterosexual couples.
While surrogacy in the UK is not illegal there is no contract that couples can enter into with the surrogate mother and no access to the agency services that are plentiful abroad. Also surrogate mothers here can only receive expenses, as opposed to formal payment, for their ‘services’, and under English law the surrogate is treated as the legal mother until a parental order is signed. If a surrogate decides she wants to keep the baby, there is nothing commissioning parents can do about it.
In the last 3 years, according to reports, over 1,000 couples have travelled to a total of 57 countries where there are no restrictions on surrogacy. India is proving particularly popular with at least 3,000 clinics there offering ‘fertility services’.
Nick Clegg is now raising the prospect of introducing less restrictive laws in the UK, to encourage its expansion here and presumably allow full payments to surrogate women (rather than large ‘expenses’): ‘We should be learning from the experience of couples who have used surrogacy, and looking at how full legalisation has worked in places like California’.
I guess Clegg holds the same perspective towards surrogacy as Ivan Massow who says: ‘Surrogates are wonderful people, who love making other people’s lives whole.’
I’m sure surrogates are indeed wonderful people and I know that quite a few women in the UK become surrogates for altruistic reasons, mainly those helping close family members. But these kinds of glib statements from Clegg and Massow brush over a whole host of ethical and practical problems with surrogacy.
In reality, surrogacy is an exploitative global industry, driven by money and the demands of commissioning ‘parents’. It requires women to become ‘breeders’ and it treats children as commodities. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that in many cases, commercial surrogacy is not too far off buying and selling children.
I’d love to ask Clegg and Massow the following questions:
Why are surrogate mothers also called ‘gestational carriers?’ (answer: it conveniently de-personalises mothers and what they are doing)
Why do no wealthy women become surrogate mothers? (answer: they don’t want to!)
Why do Indian women really become surrogates, in a country where it is highly stigmatized? (answer: for money, rarely for altruism, or to make other lives ‘whole’)
Why do wealthy Westerners go abroad for surrogates? (answer: to pay less, and control them more)
Who takes care of the short- and long-term health needs of surrogate women once they have ‘produced’? (answer: no-one)
Who has done the research showing that surrogates are not impacted physically and psychologically in the long-term? (answer: very few, and on very few women)
Who is concerned about the effects on children from being cut off from their gestational mother and from their biological heritage and identity? (answer: very few (p18))
Who will answer the sibling pleading with his mother (p18): ‘We don’t need the money; can we just keep my brother?’‘ (answer: who can answer this?)
Who really cares about the mothers and children? (answer: a few people, but not enough. Anyone with the illusion that mothers aren’t impacted by carrying a child for ‘just’ 9 months should read this or this)
Who are parents nowadays? The biological? The social? The gestational? (answer: all of them, including this surrogate mother, seven years after giving birth)
What and who and is really driving the global industry of surrogacy? (answer: MONEY, same sex couples and some heterosexual couples – and not necessarily infertility)
Is surrogacy a commercial transaction or not? (answer: it is almost always a commercial transaction and there should be no pretence that it is not).
How prescient was this warning by CS Lewis back in 1943: ‘What we call man’s power over nature turns out to be a power exercised by some men over other men with nature as its instrument…’