While most couples will start a family by allowing the woman in the relationship to become pregnant and give birth to a baby, this isn’t always viable for everyone. Some couples face serious medical obstacles, like heart conditions or hysterectomies, that make conception, pregnancy, and delivery either too high risk or medically impossible.
Fortunately, this doesn’t mean that couples have to give up the dream of having a family. Adoption is always an option, and, for others, so is a surrogate mother pregnancy. Surrogacy is where another woman who has been evaluated as medically safe for pregnancy agrees to become pregnant on behalf of a couple. Once the nine months pass and birth occurs, the newborn is united with the hopeful couple, and life as a family can begin.
In recent years, surrogacy has become a global phenomenon, with many couples choosing to leave their country of residence and find a surrogate mother abroad. There are many reasons to do this, such as legal restrictions in the country of residence against compensated surrogacy, which a couple may prefer. There may also be financial reasons, as surrogate mothers in other countries may be available at lower costs compared to the country of residence, depending on the currencies used.
However, the decision to go abroad for surrogacy and work with a foreign surrogate mother can bring up questions of ethics. Here are some of the potential issues that a hopeful family may need to consider or confront as they explore this option.
Is Surrogacy Itself Ethical?
The larger philosophical question is already answered by the fact that surrogacy is legal in most parts of the world, but just because it is legal, does that make it right? The basic argument is that, unlike most labor that anyone can do with sufficient training, there is a specificity to surrogate motherhood that requires only women to do this job.
This brings up questions about feminist rights and respect. Women have, in the past and some parts of the world, experienced an imbalance in rights and consent. There is some concern about whether or not women contacted for surrogacy, especially compensated surrogacy, are giving “true consent” when others could stand to benefit from their agreement, and there may be questions of coercion involved. In other countries, after all, the amount of money involved in surrogacy can potentially be life-altering, which brings into question the motives of others and just how willful a surrogate mother is about participating.
Surrogate Mother’s Rights
There is also the ethics of how should a surrogate mother’s rights be protected and how this can be facilitated while protecting the rights of a couple. Sometimes, there is a clash, and if there is no legal framework in place, it can cause a lot of conflict with a potentially messy legal resolution.
One example of this is a famous, precedent-setting American case just as surrogacy was becoming a more widespread practice. During the 1980s, “Baby M” was born in a period when few surrogacy laws had been drafted. This led to a legal showdown when the surrogate mother, after giving birth, changed her mind about the agreement and decided she wanted the baby for herself. This created a significant custody battle that provoked lawmakers to update custody laws and develop new legal protocols for surrogacy.
There have, unfortunately, been some cases where foreign couples feel that surrogacy is like buying a product at a store and that they have “consumer rights” that supersede everything else. One such dramatic example happened in 2014 in Thailand. This is known as the “Baby Gammy” case, and in this instance, a Thai surrogate mother found out that not only did she unexpectedly have twins, but one of them tested positive for Down’s Syndrome.
The Australian couple who had engaged the surrogate mother demanded that she abort the baby, which violated her own religious beliefs, and she refused. The couple responded by taking the healthy twin and abandoning the twin with the congenital disorder, so the surrogate mother raised it. However, the government and the nation of Thailand were so shocked by the disregard the Australians had for life that they passed laws banning foreigners from engaging Thai women for surrogacy.
As a hopeful family that is investing in surrogacy, especially for those coming from developed nations or having a clear economic advantage over the country they are visiting, it is important to be aware of the balance of power. Trying to take shortcuts or using less reputable services, clinics, and agencies may lead to situations that cross ethical lines, especially in cases where organizations may traffic in women as potential surrogate mothers. Be aware of situations that seem too good to be true, and in particular, be sensitive to the situation of a potential surrogate mother.
It’s important to research options carefully. This is a morally complex endeavor, and making the right decision with a clear conscience is important.