Sunday, April 20, 2008

More Attempts by Men to Sell Off Our Children to the Highest Bidders

I've had the following article saved for a few weeks but was debating whether or not to post it. One of the reasons I didn't want to is because I didn't want it to seem like I was picking on Israel, since this sort of thing goes on in every western country. Unfortunately the article chose to focus on an Israeli couple and I couldn't find another one so casual in its dismissal of this mother's humanity and the natural rights of all mothers to their own children. You would think they were talking about picking up a new puppy from a dog, the off-handed way they described what was going on.

Anyway, I decided to go with it.

It amazes me that these people feel so entitled that they don't mind going half a world away to exploit some poor Indian woman and her children in order to meet their own needs. No problem whatsoever with using this women's body for money, as she is so desperately poor that she has no other option. As if this was such a great way to make an income, how come they couldn't find some Israeli girl to perform this service for them?

They have played on this woman's desperate need to give a decent life to her already-born nine year old son and convinced her to sell them another one of her children. As, let's make no mistake about it: this is the child of the woman who will ultimately bring this baby into the world through bloody pain and suffering. I don't care how that child arrived inside of the mother's body, from a test tube, from a one-night stand, or from the Archangel Gabriel sneaking into her bedroom in the middle of the night. This baby will be the child of the woman who is investing her body in bringing that new life into existence. Who will go through the inconvenience, disfigurement and yes, bloody pain and suffering in order to bring another human being onto our planet.

All for cash on demand.

It's totally disgraceful.

There is no such thing as a surrogate mother, there are only mothers.

This is a framework men have invented and labeled women with, in an attempt to degrade all mothers' natural rights to our own children. To make less of them. By putting all these qualifers on our relationships with our children: one is non-custodial if not legally named custodial, one is only a surrogate unless a court said otherwise.

I don't recognize these labels or the courts that impose them.

I remember once reading that in most ancient societies children took the status of their mothers. At the time I thought it didn't make much sense, but now I understand the logic. It's a common-sense recognition of how little men invest in the entire life-giving process, so it's almost a back-handed compliment to motherhood.

Anyway this entire surrogacy business, along with the custody wars incited by men for monetary gain, are nothing but more of the ongoing struggles by jealous men to deny womens' unique and powerful bond with our children. Ultimately it's an underhanded attempt to usurp the natural rights of mothers and hand them off to the highest bidder. It's unethical and should be made illegal, at least for money. You can find some woman to do this for you for free, fine; but no money should be allowed to be exchanged.


MUMBAI — Yonatan Gher and his partner, who are Israeli, plan eventually to tell their child about being made in India, in the womb of a stranger, with the egg of a Mumbai housewife they picked from an Internet lineup.

The embryo was formed in January in an Indian fertility clinic about 2,500 miles from the couple’s home in Tel Aviv, produced by doctors who have begun specializing in surrogacy services for couples from around the world.

“The child will know early on that he or she is unique, that it came into the world in a very special way,” said Mr. Gher, 29, a communications officer for the environmental group Greenpeace.

An enterprise known as reproductive outsourcing is a new but rapidly expanding business in India. Clinics that provide surrogate mothers for foreigners say they have recently been inundated with requests from the United States and Europe, as word spreads of India’s mix of skilled medical professionals, relatively liberal laws and low prices.

Commercial surrogacy, which is banned in some states and some European countries, was legalized in India in 2002. The cost comes to about $25,000, roughly a third of the typical price in the United States. That includes the medical procedures; payment to the surrogate mother, which is often, but not always, done through the clinic; plus air tickets and hotels for two trips to India (one for the fertilization and a second to collect the baby).

“People are increasingly exposed to the idea of surrogacy in India; Oprah Winfrey talked about it on her show,” said Dr. Kaushal Kadam at the Rotunda clinic in Mumbai. Just an hour earlier she had created an embryo for Mr. Gher and his partner with sperm from one of them (they would not say which) and an egg removed from a donor just minutes before in another part of the clinic.

The clinic, known more formally as Rotunda — The Center for Human Reproduction, does not permit contact between egg donor, surrogate mother or future parents. The donor and surrogate are always different women; doctors say surrogates are less likely to bond with the babies if there is no genetic connection.

There are no firm statistics on how many surrogacies are being arranged in India for foreigners, but anecdotal evidence suggests a sharp increase.

Rudy Rupak, co-founder and president of PlanetHospital, a medical tourism agency with headquarters in California, said he expected to send at least 100 couples to India this year for surrogacy, up from 25 in 2007, the first year he offered the service.

“Every time there is a success story, hundreds of inquiries follow,” he said.

In Anand, a city in the eastern state of Gujarat where the practice was pioneered in India, more than 50 surrogate mothers are pregnant with the children of couples from the United States, Britain and elsewhere. Fifteen of them live together in a hostel attached to the clinic there.

Dr. Naina Patel, who runs the Anand clinic, said that even Americans who could afford to hire surrogates at home were coming to her for women “free of vices like alcohol, smoking and drugs.” She said she gets about 10 e-mailed inquiries a day from couples abroad.

Under guidelines issued by the Indian Council of Medical Research, surrogate mothers sign away their rights to any children. A surrogate’s name is not even on the birth certificate.

This eases the process of taking the baby out of the country. But for many, like Lisa Switzer, 40, a medical technician from San Antonio whose twins are being carried by a surrogate mother from the Rotunda clinic, the overwhelming attraction is the price. “Doctors, lawyers, accountants, they can afford it, but the rest of us — the teachers, the nurses, the secretaries — we can’t,” she said. “Unless we go to India.”

Surrogacy is an area fraught with ethical and legal uncertainties. Critics argue that the ease with which relatively rich foreigners are able to “rent” the wombs of poor Indians creates the potential for exploitation. Although the government is actively promoting India as a medical tourism destination, what some see as an exchange of money for babies has made many here uncomfortable.

The Ministry of Women and Child Development said in February that it was weighing recommending legislation to govern surrogacy, but it is not imminent.

An article published in The Times of India in February questioned how such a law would be enforced: “In a country crippled by abject poverty,” it asked, “how will the government body guarantee that women will not agree to surrogacy just to be able to eat two square meals a day?”

Even some of those involved in the business of organizing surrogates want greater regulation.

“There must be protection for the surrogates,” Mr. Rupak said. “Inevitably, people are going to smell the money, and unscrupulous operators will get into the game. I don’t trust the industry to police itself.”

He said that the few doctors offering the service now were ethical and took good care of the surrogates but that he was concerned this might change as the business expanded.

Mr. Gher and his partner, who asked not to be named to preserve his privacy, have worked through their doubts and are certain they are doing a good thing.

“People can believe me when I say that if I could bear the baby myself I would,” he said. “But this is a mutually beneficial answer. The surrogate gets a fair amount of money for being part of the process.”

They are paying about $30,000, of which the surrogate gets about $7,500.

“Surrogates do it to give their children a better education, to buy a home, to start up a small business, a shop,” Dr. Kadam said. “This is as much money as they could earn in maybe three years. I really don’t think that this is exploiting the women. I feel it is two people who are helping out each other.”

Mr. Gher agreed. “You cannot ignore the discrepancies between Indian poverty and Western wealth,” he said. “We try our best not to abuse this power. Part of our choice to come here was the idea that there was an opportunity to help someone in India.”

In the Mumbai clinic, it is clear that an exchange between rich and poor is under way. On some contracts, the thumbprint of an illiterate surrogate stands out against the clients’ signatures.

Although some Indian clinics allow surrogates and clients to meet, Mr. Gher said he preferred anonymity. When his surrogate gives birth later this year, he and his partner will be in the hospital, but not in the ward where she is in labor, and will be handed the baby by a nurse.

The surrogate mother does not know that she is working for foreigners, Dr. Kadam said, and has not been told that the future parents are both men. Gay sex is illegal in India.

Israel legalized adoption by same-sex couples in February, but such couples are not permitted to hire surrogates in Israel to become parents. A fertility doctor recommended Rotunda, which made news in November when its doctors delivered twins for another gay Israeli couple.

Rotunda did not allow interviews with its surrogate mothers, but a 32-year-old woman at a fertility clinic in Delhi explained why she is planning on her second surrogacy in two years.

Separated from her husband, she found that her monthly wages of 2,800 rupees, about $69, as a midwife were not enough to raise her 9-year-old son. With the money she earned from the first surrogacy, more than $13,600, she bought a house. She expects to pay for her son’s education with what she earns for the second, about $8,600. (Fees are typically fixed by the doctor and can vary.) “I will save the money for my child’s future,” she said.

The process requires a degree of subterfuge in this socially conservative country. She has told her mother, who lives with her, but not her son or their neighbors. She has told the few who have asked her outright that she is bearing a child for a relative.

So far, for the Israeli couple, the experience of having a baby has been strangely virtual. They perused profiles of egg donors that were sent by e-mail (“We picked the one with the highest level of education,” Mr. Gher said). From information that followed, they rejected a factory worker in favor of a housewife, who they thought would have a less stressful lifestyle.

Mr. Gher posts updates about the process on Facebook. And soon the clinic will start sending ultrasound images of their developing child by e-mail. Highly pixelated, blown-up passport photos of the egg donor and surrogate mother adorn a wall of their apartment in Israel.

“We’ve been trying to half close our eyes and look at it in a more holistic way to imagine what she would actually look like,” Mr. Gher said of the donor’s blurred image. “These are women we don’t know, will never know, who will become in a way part of our lives.”


Val said...

Wow. Just, WOW! I don't even have a clue how to respond to such arrogant presumption...
[emails still bouncing BTW]

NYMOM said...

Presumption. That's the word I was missing.

The presumption that it's okay to just show up and claim the child of another human being. Just bring it home like a puppy or a hamster you would pick up from the pet shop. or a new pair of shoes you would order from an online cataloque.

Actually I think the ancients were more human in that sense. As even if they didn't understand our notions of basic human rights, they understood the unique link between a mother and her child and honored it, in the breech anyway, with the laws making a child follow the status of his or her mother. On the other hand, the people in this article didn't even seem to recognize any such basic human notion.

It's almost a denial of the humanity of that Indian woman as well as the child.