Thursday, October 06, 2011

Where the cheap babies are

The New York Times has an interesting short piece about surrogate mothers in India. Apparently surrogate motherhood is becoming big business over there, big enough for the government to start regulating it. Or apparently, big enough for the government to draft laws to provide some measure of protection for impoverished women who rent out their wombs, but not so much legal protection that the lucrative surrogacy business climate would feel the pinch. The assisted reproductive industry in India brings in some $450 million dollars annually.

It is interesting how proponents of the industry regard the transaction between surrogate mother and clients as a 'win-win' situation. The mother gets money -- more than an annual income -- from the deal, and clinics supporting commercial surrogacy have every good reason to take good care of her, probably much better care than she would receive if she was having a baby of the old-fashioned (non-income generating) kind. But in order to see this as a win-win, there are large chunks of reality you need to forget: the poverty that motivates having a child for someone else (often from abroad) and the lousy standard of health care that typically goes with it.
The transaction is a 'win' that is quite compatible with losing, seeing as someone else gets the baby, and the life circumstances of the surrogate mother are unlikely to change dramatically. And it seems the legislation proposed is not going to help her much if something goes wrong: the law is silent on what happens in the case of miscarriage or other complications, for instance. As it stands, the regulations seem to send the message that everyone other than the surrogate mother -- the private clinic, the local government, the clients -- ought to be the real beneficiaries of this form of global baby trade.

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