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05/17/2010

Ethics of Reproductive Tourism Questioned

I was simply astonished to read the “ethical analysis” (if one could call it that) from DNAIndia.com in an article titled “New Age Moms Want Pregnancy Outsourced!”

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Written from the Indian perspective, where everything from the UK and the US is outsourced to Indian laborers, I can understand the title, but the analysis is simply flawed every way.

The discussion describes two different prospective parent sets–both healthy enough to conceive and moms healthy enough (they believe) to carry their own children to term. However, both for career reasons (one is even a model), they would prefer to conceive using IVF and have surrogates carry their children to term.

So, on the face of this scenario, I can hardly see how this would be objectionable that these women (along with their husbands) for their own reasons (careerist or not) would want to use surrogacy as an option. Yet, according to the medical ethicists on DNAIndia.com, they argue “”If a woman does not have medical condition that reduces the chances of conceiving a baby we discourage them to opt for surrogacy.”

Now never mind that there are differences between conception (the use of IVF) and gestation (the use of surrogacy), but the simple claim that doctors would be so paternalistic as to deny women the option of using a surrogate if the surrogate were willing to do so is simply outrageous.

Then comes my favorite claim of all made by an IVF expert in India, Dr. Nayna Patel: “If a woman cannot carry her own child in her womb can she be responsible enough to raise the child?” This claim, would appear to apply not only to these women described above, but to all women who use surrogacy–if the moral standard for being able to be a responsible parent is carrying a child in one’s womb. This would also rule out all adoptive and step-parents as well. Who knew that gestating a child was the absolute standard for parental responsibility?

In short, the analysis of these two cases is absurd and I hope that this is not the general thinking about surrogacy in India or the UK. Of course, the decision to “outsource” as the article put it surrogacy to India as opposed to finding a surrogate in the UK is an interesting decision, but one that is devoid of context on the website. Are these women of Southeast Asian decent? Or is this simply a decision about reducing the cost of surrogacy? Is finding a surrogate so difficult in the UK that it would be nearly impossible but that is not so in India?

I do not know the answers to these questions–but DNAIndia.com does not provide the answers to them either.

So before they or anyone else is so quick to condemn women who seek surrogates beyond their backyards, one should not question their motives, but explore the social, cultural, religious, and economic contexts in which they do and remember that reproductive choice is what trumps, for both couple and surrogate.

Summer Johnson, PhD

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