Friday, November 28, 2008

The changing market for surrogate wombs

Here is a longish set of excerpts from a very interesing NY Times Magazine story about surrogacy: Her Body, My Baby . It touches on a number of issues that also come up in discussions of organ transplantation, and the controversy about compensation for donors.

"Before I.V.F. became a standard fertility treatment, about 15 years ago, the only surrogacy option available to infertile couples who wanted some genetic connection to their child was what is now called traditional surrogacy. That is when the woman carrying the baby is also the biological mother; the resulting child is created from her egg and sperm from the donor father. When the surrogate mother is carrying a child genetically unrelated to her, she is gestating the child, and the process is called gestational surrogacy. Now that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of doctors in the United States who can perform I.V.F., surrogacy agencies report that the numbers have shifted markedly away from traditional surrogacies toward gestational surrogacies.
There are no national statistics documenting this shift, however, or documenting much of anything about surrogacy. Shirley Zager, director of the Organization of Parents Through Surrogacy, a national support group, told me that there have probably been about 28,000 surrogate births since 1976, a figure that includes gestational and traditional surrogacies. Sherrie Smith, the program administrator for the East Coast office of the Center for Surrogate Parenting, a surrogacy and egg-donation agency, said that of the 1,355 babies born in their program since 1980, 226 were created through artificial insemination — traditional surrogacies — and the rest were gestational surrogacies, using either a donor egg or the intended mother’s own egg."
"Surrogacy is unregulated, and laws vary by state. In the states where it is legal, there is no box on the birth certificate to check “surrogate birth.” In many states that don’t expressly prohibit surrogacy — like Pennsylvania, where our child was eventually born — the genetic parents’ names could be the only ones that appear on the birth certificate. If, however, our baby had been born in New York, where we live and where it is illegal to compensate someone for surrogacy, we would have had to adopt our biological child from Cathy, the woman who carried our child, and her husband. But our contracts were signed in New Jersey, and the consent form that Dr. Fateh had Cathy sign skirted any remaining legal issues."
Of the potential surrogate moms:
"None were living in poverty. Lawyers and surrogacy advocates will tell you that they don’t accept poor women as surrogates for a number of reasons. Shirley Zager told me that the arrangement might feel coercive for someone living in real poverty. Poor women, she also told me, are less likely to be in stable relationships, in good health and of appropriate weight. Surrogates are often required to have their own health insurance, which usually means the surrogate or her spouse is employed in the kind of secure job that provides such a benefit.
While no one volunteering to have our baby was poor, neither were they rich. The $25,000 we would pay would make a significant difference in their lives. Still, in our experience with the surrogacy industry, no one lingered on the topic of money. We encountered the wink-nod rule: Surrogates would never say they were motivated to carry a child for another couple just for money; they were all motivated by altruism. This gentle hypocrisy allows surrogacy to take place. Without it, both sides would have to acknowledge the deep cultural revulsion against attaching a dollar figure to the creation of a human life.
In fact, charges of baby selling have long tarnished the practice of traditional surrogacy, and charges of exploiting women have lingered even as more couples opt for gestational surrogacy. We were not disturbed by the commercial aspect of surrogacy. A woman going through the risks of labor for another family clearly deserves to be paid. To me, imagining someone pregnant with the embryo produced by my egg and my husband’s sperm felt more similar to organ donation, or I guess more accurately, organ rental. That was something I could live with. "
"THE PREVIOUS WINTER, a Catholic priest, upon hearing of our impending birth and my plans to raise the boy in the same liberal Catholic tradition in which I was raised, sniffed and said to me, “You know, the church frowns on science babies.” "

1 comment:

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