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For years, surrogacy has been seen as a blessing to many families across the country who struggle to conceive. It has even been a path to pregnancy for celebrities like Kim Kardashian, Tyra Banks, Sara Jessica Parker, Anderson Cooper, Elton John, and Dave Rubin, whose use of a surrogate was announced just this year. Like any commercialized industry, though, there is a dark side, and it’s one that few people are aware of.
Surrogacy, also known as gestational surrogacy, is a contractual arrangement that involves a surrogate mother who has chosen to “rent out” her womb to a couple who desires a baby. The surrogate mother is impregnated with embryos created from the eggs of the intended mother and a sperm donor or an egg donor and the sperm of the intended father. The surrogate mother is then paid by the couple to carry the baby in her womb to term, and once born, the baby is given to the couple to raise and care for as their own.
When a gestational surrogacy occurs, especially one involving a same-sex couple, an egg donor is often needed. In order to ensure that the surrogate mother has no parental rights, the egg must come from a fourth party. Because the egg is separated from the donor and implanted in the surrogate mother, neither the donor nor the surrogate are legally considered to be the baby’s biological mother. Neither of them have parental rights over the child.
For the embryo(s) to be successfully implanted, the surrogate mother must be on a laundry list of medications, including an immunosuppressant that reduces the chance of her body rejecting the embryo as a foreign object. The surrogate mother is immediately considered a high-risk pregnancy, meaning she faces a higher likelihood of gestational diabetes, maternal hypertension, fetal growth restriction, pre-eclampsia, premature birth, and even death. The haunting stories and lack of coverage of the deaths of surrogate mothers, including Brooke Browne, Crystal Wilhite, and Michelle Reaves, should give us pause when considering the ethics of surrogacy.
Horrifyingly, abortion and “selective reduction” clauses are routinely included in all surrogacy contracts. This means that the surrogate mother is contractually obligated to honor the wishes of the intended parents should they desire that she abort the baby or, in some cases, babies. Brittney Rose Torres and Melissa Cook were each carrying triplets when the biological parents decided they wanted them to abort one of the three babies. They were bullied and threatened with financial ruin and lawsuits because, as one CBS analyst put it, “this is a business deal.”
In addition to complications and risks during pregnancy, there are many consequences to surrogacy after the baby is born. Babies born via surrogacy are more likely to suffer from “low and very low” birth weights. There is also a four- to five-fold increase in stillbirths among babies born through assisted reproductive technologies.
When the baby is born to the surrogate mother, it is immediately taken away from her, severing the natural maternal bond and exchange of hormones needed for both the baby’s development and the mother’s healing. In fact, most surrogate mothers never even get to lay eyes on the baby they carried for nine months. Big Fertility often denies that this results in serious psychological issues like postpartum depression, but when a baby is born to its biological mother, she is advised how important it is that she and the baby have uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth to improve physiologic stability.
Skin-to-skin contact has been proven to support optimal infant brain development, and a study in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry found that “surrogacy children showed higher levels of adjustment difficulties at age 7” and “the absence of a gestational connection to the mother may be more problematic.” The study also suggested that these difficulties “may have been under-reported.”
Surrogacy is not just local to the United States — it’s a worldwide industry bringing in billions of dollars each year. It exploits women in the slums of countries like India or Thailand, claiming to offer them an escape from poverty. For commissioning couples in the U.S. and Europe, it is much cheaper to use the bodies of women in less developed nations than it is to find a local surrogate.
Gianna Toboni, a correspondent for HBO documentaries, traveled to India to investigate the reality and ethics behind the surrogacy industry. She found that women are routinely recruited from impoverished areas; told to sign contracts they can’t read; and required to spend a year living away from their home in a facility. She will later deliver the baby only by Cesarean section (C-section) so doctors can maximize the number of births per day.
During implantation, doctors will often implant multiple embryos to increase the likelihood that the woman will get pregnant. The commissioning couple, however, is not notified when there are multiple babies, despite being their biological parents, and the babies end up being sold on the black market. If the babies are not sold to families in wealthier nations, they are often trafficked, used for forced labor, sexual exploitation, and forced marriage.
Even worse, babies born overseas via surrogate are often abandoned. As an example, Baby Gammy was abandoned in Thailand by his intended parents in Australia because he had Down syndrome. The intended father later said in an interview that “we probably would have terminated it…because the baby has a handicap.”
Infertility is devastating and should be responded to with the highest level of compassion. However, just because two adults desire a child does not mean that they have an inherent right to one. As a consequence of surrogacy, children continue to be the unconsenting victims of social experiments, left to suffer the consequences of adults who simply see them as a commodity to fulfill their own desires.
And the long-term impact is great. According to real testimonies, young adult children born via gamete donation suffer serious genealogical bewilderment. One study in the Journal of Human Reproduction acknowledged that the use of donor gametes in reproduction technology raises “ethical, psychological, and social questions.” They determined that “disclosure to children conceived with donor gametes should not be optional.”
Children have a right to two parents. Whether or not we choose to acknowledge it, there is an innate desire in all of us to know from where we came. Even children raised in single parent homes long to know their other parent. When a third or fourth party is added into the mix, an unnecessary burden is placed on the child that results in psychological and sociological repercussions they will cope with for the rest of their life.
Undeniably, surrogacy is an unethical, exploitative industry that causes harm to everyone involved except for the intended parents. Some might argue that women sometimes have to give their children up for adoption, which is always better than a baby being aborted or stuck in an abusive home or foster system. However, surrogacy is not the same as a family rescuing children from mothers grappling with an unplanned pregnancy who might otherwise choose abortion or from abusive homes or drug-ridden environments. Surrogacy intentionally creates a child for the purpose of separating him from his or her biological mother and father (and the woman who carried him or her in her womb) to provide satisfaction and fulfillment to the desires of two strangers who are willing to pay to be parents.
Regardless of the circumstances surrounding a couple’s decision to choose surrogacy, women are not property to be rented for the purpose of bearing children and kids are not menu items to be ordered at a person’s whim. These are real people who face real consequences, and they are victims of an unethical system.
This is the dark side of the surrogacy industry.
Follow Reagan on Twitter! @thereaganscott