Tuesday, August 5, 2014
Lets talk about Surrogacy
In the last week or so the topic of surrogacy has exploded in the media here in Australia due to a horrifying story from Thailand. When the story broke last week it was claimed that an Australian couple had employed the services of a Thai surrogate to carry their twins, but that when one twin was born with Downs Syndrome, he was left behind while the healthy twin sister was taken home to Australia.
At the core - this very scenario invokes intense emotional reactions in pretty much everyone who hears about it. I think everyone with a reasonably developed sense of 'right and wrong' can see that there is something horribly wrong with what has happened. Then, as tends to happen with these stories, each day more and more details have emerged. It is claimed that the surrogate is only 21, and went into the surrogacy completely unaware of what was involved (she had no idea about IVF and embyro creating, and probably had no idea what an embryo transfer was going to be like). She has apparently stated that she agreed to be a surrogate so that she and her husband could pay off some debts. She is now caring for the baby boy as her own son, again stating that he is hers because he was in her tummy.
To me, as a fellow surrogate, these don't sound like the words of someone who had a full grasp of what she was getting into. I don't know her, and can only base my opinions on what I've seen her say herself (on heavily edited TV), and the limited knowledge I have of the commercial surrogacy process in Thailand... but my heart goes out to her. This is the crux of the anti-surrogacy arguement: weathly western couples taking advantage of under educated, naive and desperate women. This is when the system fails. This is when a third party 'agent' gets to line his/her pockets at the expense of other people's desperation and with complete disregard for the lives being created.
We live in 2014 for goodness sake! It really makes me wonder at the state of humanity that we are STILL exploiting women and children. And I also think this is where most people are getting confused in directing their horror and frustration at this story. It's easiest to throw up our arms and say 'surrogacy is morally corrupt', 'there should be a blanket ban worldwide' and that people seeking surrogates are 'horrible human beings'. But that isn't the case and it doesn't solve anything. That doesn't deal with the fundamental problems of infertility or the exploitation of women, it simply tarnishes everyone with the same soiled brush.
I honestly don't know what the answer is.
I have been contacted by a number of media outlets to state my opinion, but have declined out of respect for Zander's parent's and the privacy of his family. But it has certainly got me thinking about the process of surrogacy in Australia versus other countries around the world. At one point I probably would have pushed for surrogacy in Australia to become commercial like many other countries, as it seems like in Australia the surrogate is the one doing all the work and taking all the risk, but the only one NOT to benefit financially! But I think I've done a backflip on that opinion this week.
I don't know that there can be a system where a surrogate is paid for her 'services', that doesn't open itself up for exploitation? Would it then become those with means seeking out those without? Women may be coerced into becoming a surrogate by the prospect of a 'payout' when maybe they otherwise wouldn't have offered? I honestly don't believe this would be the situation everytime - there will always be women willing to be a surrogate regardless of financial gain (strange but true - they do exist!), but it does feel like a bit of a moral minefield. Money has a long history of corrupting otherwise innocent scenarios...
The way the Australian system works at present has the surrogate volunteering her service. She gets no financial benefit (and often times ends up out of pocket herself as Intended Parents can't possibly pay for every pregnancy-related cost as some are quite obscure!). She does what she does simply because she wants to help. Both parties undergo counselling to cover the full medical process as well as the social and psychological impact of the pregnancy/creating another human being - so there is no confusion as to what is going to happen. And the most important factor is that both parties are entering into the arrangement as equals. There is no 'employer/empolyee' roles to play, and therefore no feeling of ownership or power. If anything the IPs put themselves in a vulnerable position as the law in Australia states that the surrogate has full control of her pregnancy.
This process is by no means foolproof, and it doesn't always go to plan. People say one thing, then do another. People make promises that they may not be able to fulfill. Emotions run hot. Miscommunication happens. Hormones wreck havoc and lives can be put in jeopardy. And at the end of the process the surrogate is left with nothing but a few more stretch marks, and in the worst scenarios possible irreparable physical damage.
Despite this, without surrogacy, a sweet little boy would not exist.
There will always be couples seeking the assistance of a surrogate to help them have a child. Just as there will always be women willing to carry for another person. The discrepancy lies in the amount of couples needing a surrogate, versus the number of women willing to carry for no payment. Which is how commercial surrogacy becomes a booming business.
I think as a society we like someone else to tell us how to feel, and we like to view things dichotomously. It's easier for our brains if we can just categorise something as 'good' or 'bad'. It means we don't have to think about all of the variations inbetween because that requires way too much effort (and way too much empathy!).
Surrogacy, however, is not a black and white topic. It is complicated, and emotional, and important - oh so important. It quite literally involves life and death. And I think if nothing else it's a good thing that people are talking about it at the moment. What happens from here I do not know. But I only wish the best for the poor twins caught up in the current scandal.