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Serious questions remain about morality of ‘rent a womb’.

In the past few days, diver Tom Daley and his husband, film maker Dustin Lance Black, have proudly announced the newest addition to their family, a healthy baby boy born to a surrogate, to whom Daley and Black paid an undisclosed sum. Snaps posted online show the beaming couple, darlings of the gay gossip columns, showing off their latest purchase. Predictably, this has caused much comment, chiefly on social media, ranging from gushing fanboy congratulation to hysterical homophobia.

However, in amongst the Twitter twattery, there have been some measured voices questioning the morality of rich people paying poor women for the use of their wombs.

Illegal in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy and Spain, paid-for surrogacy is most prevalent in the USA, India and the Far East, where usually impoverished women are paid what to them are vast sums to carry a baby on behalf of well-off Westerners. Writing in The Guardian two years ago, journalist and campaigner Julie Bindel revealed that the surrogates themselves are often kept in what we can only describe as colonies, and are frequently given drugs to stop them lactating in an attempt to stop mother and child bonding. For these women on the breadline in the developing world, their fee can be equivalent to several years’ salary which is why, as Bindel reported, many are coerced into the procedure by their male partners.

Morally, it is difficult to see a difference between paying for surrogacy, or paying for a prostitute. The person doing the buying has enough money to use the body of a desperate young woman for their own ends. And yet, to bring this up often results in accusations of homophobia. This is manifestly nonsense: precisely the same argument applies to heterosexual couples.

Another argument in favour of paid-for surrogacy is that having children is a “human right”. It is true that the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, drafted chiefly by British and American lawyers in a post-Nazi, iron-curtain Stalinist world, does mention “the right to found a family”, but no “right” is absolute if it involves the harm and exploitation of others.

In an essay entitled “Gay Rights and Surrogacy Wrongs”, Bindel and her co-author Gary Powell argue, “In renting the womb of a woman, her reproductive rights are removed. She will normally be dictated to throughout her pregnancy by both the commissioning parents and any third-party broker involved.

“The usual scenario with surrogacy arrangements is that the surrogate is told what to eat and drink, when she is allowed to have sex with her partner, and sent for invasive medical tests throughout the pregnancy. She will sign a form agreeing to have one or more foetuses aborted for any number of reasons, such as multiple births or the detection of abnormality, and will be required to undergo Caesarean section to give birth, the date of which will be decided by the commissioning parents. She will be unable to see or make physical contact with the baby, which will be immediately removed from her.”

It’s wonderful that we live in an age when two-mum and two-dad families are increasingly viewed as perfectly normal. Anyone with half a brain agrees that it is the love and care provided by parents, rather than what they have between their legs, which matters most, and we can only applaud those same-sex couples who adopt, foster and who have babies via sperm donation. (And before anyone likens sperm donation to surrogacy, let’s remember that the former involves a quick one off the wrist into a plastic cup, while the latter involves controlling a woman’s body for nine months and then taking her new born baby away).

These two-mum and two-dad families are pioneers and have helped create an environment where the outdated view of the ideal family as one man, one woman and 2.4 kids is rapidly becoming obsolete.

And yet surely, in our rush to claim our “human rights”, we cannot be blind to the exploitation, coercion and desperation that blights this multi-million pound industry. Paid-for surrogacy is usually only ever undertaken by women who feel they have no other options and we need to think very carefully about condoning this very questionable practice.

Thanks to Julie Bindel for her assistance.. Find out more about Julie’s work here: 

About the author

Rob Harkavy

2 thoughts on “We need to talk about surrogacy”

  1. “And before anyone likens sperm donation to surrogacy, let’s remember that the former involves a quick one off the wrist into a plastic cup, while the latter involves controlling a woman’s body for nine months and then taking her new born baby away”

    What about the children produced via sperm donation, though? I’m one of those, all grown up. My biological father sold his legal right to know me or protect me. If he hadn’t signed the paperwork at the clinic, he could have gotten custody of me or been forced to pay child support in court. He sold his legal fatherhood, though he retains biological fatherhood. That HURTS. I grieve his abandonment, just like any normal human would grieve the loss of his/her biological father, and the loss of any connection to paternal family. No amount of love from the wonderful parents who raised me will ever fix that hurt. Mine happened to be straight, but my situation applies to LGBT and single parents as well.

    When I tell me story, people tell me I should be grateful that my donor dad was so kind and generous. In what other situation is it kind or generous for a parent to sell parental rights? I’m a commodity who is expected to be happy that my father abandoned me because it made my parents happy.

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