Most of us who celebrated Easter yesterday likely took part in the tradition of the Easter egg hunt. The egg, an obvious symbol of fertility, is an essential part of our spring celebration. Interestingly, the subject of fertility and “social surrogacy” was the focus of an article in Elle magazine last week. The piece told the story of an aging professional who felt she needed to have a baby, but since actually being pregnant is so inconvenient she hired a surrogate. The interesting part about this article is that it gave voice to the concerns that using a surrogate for non-medical reasons was “wrong” or “selfish.” Of course, none of these concerns were articulated very robustly, but at least they were explored. They actually interviewed Ruth Faden of the Berman Institute of Bioethics at Johns Hopkins and quoted her as saying that the “why” influences the ethical dimension of surrogacy. It is great that a magazine with such a large readership like Elle would try to tackle a subject like “social surrogacy” as it must feel that this topic is relevant to young women today. What is most striking is how there is clearly an uneasy conscience about this practice, but it cannot be described in a very meaningful way when the reigning paradigm for ethical behavior is utilitarianism and free-market economy. Issues such as the commodification of children are not even discussed. The narrative that this practice exploits women of lower socioeconomic status is flipped to state that it can actually empower these women.
For those teaching undergrads or even med students, this is an accessible introduction to the issues and can be used to foster discussion. It is really hard to come down against this practice without a content-full account of the meaning of family, motherhood, and the notion that a child is a gift from God. It is our job to help our students and trainees find that content.