While some people who choose to settle down and have a family conceive children easily, others are not so fortunate. Some people experience difficulties in conceiving children but there are also others who simply choose to have children through other means. Either way, there are various options available nowadays for people who want to have children including surrogacy. Various debates and controversies already surround surrogacy, including issues about In Vitro Fertilization and artificial insemination (Erickson, 2005, p. 8). The issues have been debated for years. However, one of the most recent issues about surrogacy that sparked controversy is a trend, usually observed in developing countries like India, called “Reproductive Tourism.” While reproductive tourism provides individuals with an option and opportunity to conceive through surrogacy, some people exert the ethical implications of such phenomenon. The objective in writing this report is to discuss the ethical issues surrounding reproductive tourism from different angles.
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Reproductive Tourism: Surrogacy in India
Reproductive tourism is a means through which individuals can seek reproductive options in other countries where people are willing to participate, ushering the “globalization of motherhood.” According to Maher (2010), people choose to look for and subscribe to reproduction technologies abroad because of: (a) cultural or ethical restrictions in their own countries, (b) medical and technological limitations and unavailability in their own countries, (c) and the difference in cost of medical services in their own country to other countries, and (d) privacy issues (p. 146). Despite these rationalizations, many groups and individuals are debating over the issue because of its ethical implications. Reproductive tourism has even brought about political debates about the issue and has fueled arguments that support the formation and implementation of local and international laws that would prohibit the act (Maher, 2010, p. 146). The opposing arguments concerning ethical issues in reproductive tourism, specifically surrounding surrogacy, will be discussed in the latter parts of the report.
Since some people resort to reproductive tourism and surrogacy due to the low cost of services in other countries, the phenomenon is more prevalent in developing countries like India. In 2002, India has legalized commercial surrogacy and since then, many women in India agree to participate due to reasons related to poverty (Connell, 2010, p. 142). Businesses organizations that negotiate terms between parents and aspiring surrogates have also opened up in the country and in 2008, there were three hundred fifty businesses, including “Babies and Us,” that are active in the industry (Connell, 2010, p. 142). Business usually target women living in poor villages because they are the most willing participants. Women willingly sign up as surrogate mothers even if they have their own families because they earn more from doing it compared to the income they obtain from their own jobs (Connell, 2010, p. 142). Years ago, women can only earn about $2,500 as surrogates but due to the increasing demand for surrogate mothers throughout the years, they can now earn up to $10,000 especially if they live in large cities (Connell, 2010, p. 142). In terms of income, businesses in reproductive technology that conduct negotiations and organize surrogacy are the ones that benefit the most. In 2008, businesses have earned $445 million from surrogacy. Williams and Dellinger (2010) believe that India has become a hub for reproductive tourism and surrogacy because of “the development of a consumer market in surrogacy; the availability of inexpensive compliant labor in India; and the coordinated work of independent firms that give consumers in the United States access to this labor ” (p. 254).
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After the brief background in reproductive tourism and surrogacy in India, we will begin our discussion about the issue with regards to ethics by identifying which parties benefit from surrogacy and why they support or condone it. The rate of poverty in India is high primarily because of overpopulation, a corrupt government, and a weak economy (Stanford Education, N.D.). On top of that, people find it difficult to acquire gainful employment. For this reason, some women in the country willingly sign up as surrogate mothers because they need a source of income to support themselves and their families. Indian surrogates say they use the money they earn to buy a house and save money for the future of their children (Yngvesson, 2010). Aside from the income that they gain from being surrogates, women also willingly engage because they also gain benefits from it. Some surrogates are provided with a house or an apartment to live in and food and clothing allowances during the nine months of pregnancy. Other times, surrogates are also paid to attend classes that would help them during their pregnancy and facilitation of communication between them and the parents who hired them overseas. To those who sign up as surrogate mothers, the amount of income and benefits that they receive to carry other people’s child in nine months are better than the income they would gain if they had regular jobs and for this reason, they choose to become regular surrogates (Stanford Education, N.D.).
Aside from women in India who view surrogacy as their best option of employment, the parents who choose to conceive through surrogacy also benefit from it. While the difficulty of conceiving is painful enough for parents, they argue that they resort to hire surrogate mothers in India to limit their expenses. Payment for surrogates in India is significantly lower compared to the payment that surrogates in Western countries like the United States would demand from intended parents. In addition, intended parents also benefit from the socio-economic gap between them and the surrogates that they hire from poor countries like India (William & Dellinger, 2010, p. 280). To intended parents, they become more in control because poor surrogate mothers agree to their requests because they merely want to get paid. In the US, American surrogates tend to demand more from intended parents because they are aware of their rights. On the other hand, surrogates in other countries blindly follow the requests of intended parents because their families depend on the income they will gain from it, and the businesses that ac as intermediaries between the parents and the surrogates ensure that the surrogates follow those requests (Williams & Dellinger, 2010, p. 280).
Overall, surrogates and parents are likely to support and subscribe to reproductive tourism and surrogacy because of the benefits that they gain from it. In a debate hosted by Mars’ Hill, the benefits and contributions of surrogacy to women in India and other developing countries where reproductive tourism is legal should not be dismissed from the equation. “Those in poverty-stricken countries see these job offerings [surrogacy] as a blessing for them and their families. They recognize that any income is better than no income” (Mars’ Hill, 2010). Women who sign up as surrogates were also praised in the Mars’ Hill article because they are willing to go to great lengths so they can earn money. These women, according to the discussion on Mars’ Hill, exhibit humility in doing so and the courage for doing something that not many women, especially those from Western countries, would sign up for. Parents who resort to surrogacy also support reproductive tourism because they will finally get to adopt a child without spending too much money.
Criticisms and Arguments Against Surrogacy
Despite the known benefits of surrogacy, some people and interest groups are expressing their disagreement towards reproductive tourism and surrogacy for various reasons including those related to ethics. We will now focus on the opposing arguments against surrogacy beginning with the income that surrogate mothers in India receive. As previously discussed, the low fees that intended parents pay surrogate mothers is a benefit to them. However, this is also the reason why some people criticize and debate over surrogacy because some people believe that because surrogate mothers in India ask for low fees, intended parents and businesses exploit their situation. Aside from exploitation, surrogacy also expands socio-economic inequality locally and internationally and breeds female oppression. According to Connell (2010, p. 142), not all women in India who sign up as surrogates do so willingly. Some women are forced by their parents and husbands to become surrogates against their will, therefore, surrogacy becomes the reason why women are used and oppressed in their own country. “Surrogacy in India are deeply oppressive because working class women can be emotionally blackmailed or coerced into carrying fetuses for their employers and others who have greater power and control over their lives” (Williams & Dellinger, 2010, p. 274). Surrogacy also expands poverty and similarly, surrogacy happens because of socio-economic inequality. “Surrogacy exists because poverty and inequality also exist. In these extreme situations where access to very limited and sometimes experimental provisions is expensive the extent of inequality is greatest” (Connell, 2010, p. 147). In this case, surrogacy underscores inequality instead of bridging the gap between socio-economic classes. Issues concerning exploitation and oppression raise an ethical issue concerning the views of society on surrogacy, specifically the extent to which human beings will allow or condemn the idea of women using their bodies to earn money.
Other arguments are closely related to concerns about children. “Although international surrogacy tourism may be the only option or a more attractive option for some, it can run into serious legal complications when the laws in the surrogate’s country and laws in the intended parents’ country reduce the intended parents’ rights” (Woodruff, 2010, p. 150). In 2008, a baby who was borne from surrogacy became an orphan because the intended Japanese parents divorced. The husband still wanted to adopt the child even after being divorced from his wife. However, a law in India prohibits single men from adopting girls and he could not adopt the girl because she was born in India and citizenship laws in the country conflict with that of Japanese laws. As a result, the child was orphaned (Woodruff, 2010, p. 150). Although the husband was able to adopt the girl after a series of legal settlements, the situation has raised ethical and legal concerns especially for the children who will be the ones to suffer the consequences if legalities prevent the intended parents to adopt them and the surrogate mothers refuse to claim them as their own. The issue raises ethical concerns regarding the safety and well-being of the child. The case about the Japanese parents prove that there is a loophole in the system, which may potentially lead to the conception and birth of a child who may end up orphaned instead of the intended plan of allowing the child to live with parents in a supportive home.
Based on the issues raised about surrogacy, I believe that the ethical arguments against commercial surrogacy weigh more than its benefits and contributions to surrogate mothers living in poor countries and the intended parents. In hindsight, the intended parents are the only ones who really benefit from surrogacy because not only are they presented with the opportunity to have children but they can also do so by paying a little amount of money. Surrogate mothers may appear to benefit from the increasing demand for their kind because they gain income, but if one looks closer, it would appear that they only sign up as surrogates because they need to. On the contrary, if other jobs are available that pay them well, I do not think they would choose to become surrogate mothers. Therefore, reproductive tourism and surrogacy only highlight socio-economic differences and how poverty pushes people to accept jobs that they would not otherwise take if they only have other options. Businesses and intended parents then take advantage of the situation and exploit those who are desperate to earn money. The ethical issues surrounding surrogacy could best be understood by studying prostitution and organ trafficking because the same principles apply. Prostitutes do what they do and people choose to sell their organs not because they want to but because they need money and women who sign up as surrogates, whether willingly or forced, do so because of the same reason. Therefore, the people, businesses, and authorities that engage, allow, and legalize surrogacy exploit women from poor families. Aside from exploitation and oppression, reproductive tourism through surrogacy is also irresponsible because of the implications of having intended parents and surrogate mothers from different countries. The Japanese parents cited as an example proves how surrogacy may also become irresponsibility towards the life and wellbeing of a child.
Despite my opposition against surrogacy, I also understand the fact that surrogacy exists because of socio-economic gaps. Women sign up as surrogates because they need the money and as long as poverty exists, they will continue to do so whether they are willing or not. Moreover, even if international organizations implement laws to eradicate surrogacy, people and businesses will always find a way to facilitate it underhandedly, like how organized crimes manage to continue human, organ, and drug trafficking. Considering these concerns, I believe that the best way to handle the issue is to set regulations. For instance, human rights groups and advocates could be involved in monitoring the situation of women in countries where surrogacy is legal to ensure that they are not forced by their families and businesses to sign up as surrogates. Furthermore, international groups and governments that legalize surrogacy in their countries should ensure that there is synchronicity between local and international laws so parents will never have problems in adopting children. Ultimately, surrogacy would only be completely eradicated if poverty were resolved. In the meantime, band-aid solutions like vigilance on the part of human rights advocates and the implementation of surrogacy and adoption laws should do.
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