Surrogacy and the State

Science, technology, and life.
May 1 2009 9:22 AM

Surrogacy and the State

Is the global market in womb rentals out of control? Does it need regulation?

I wondered about that three weeks ago when I saw this Reuters story: " Poverty Makes Surrogates of Indian Women in Gujarat ." The $4,000 to $8,000 paid to successful surrogates in India is "a huge sum of money in a country where many live on less than $2 a day," Rina Chandran reported. But compared with U.S. rates, it's cheap. That's why foreigners have begun

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.


to flock to [Nayna] Patel's clinic, drawn by the lower costs, relaxed attitude toward surrogates and lack of legislation. A draft bill on surrogacy is pending before parliament, and meanwhile, hundreds of clinics have mushroomed across the country, with critics saying touts promoting this "reproductive tourism" care little for the health or rights of the surrogates. ... Patel has a list of nearly 200 [would-be surrogates] and is seeing more women walk in everyday because they are feeling the pinch of the slowdown.

And yet, Chandran noted, Patel "draws the line at gay couples."

Cheap reproductive labor for wealthy foreigners, but no gay parents allowed? For the usual incoherent combination of lefty reasons—not enough private discrimination in working conditions, too much private discrimination in family values—I felt the urge to support regulation of the industry.

Then, yesterday, Reuters published another investigation of overseas surrogacy conditions, this time in China. "With China's rising affluence, increasing numbers of infertile couples have been seeking surrogate mothers," James Pomfret reported . "Surrogacy agencies have been recruiting girls, often from poor villages, to have babies on behalf of prospective parents."

Should the government do something about this? Actually, authorities are already on the case:

In the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, three young surrogate first-time mothers were discovered by authorities hiding in a communal flat. Soon afterwards, district family planning and security officers broke into the flat, bundled them into a van and drove them to a district hospital where they were manhandled into a maternity ward, the mothers recounted to Reuters. "I was crying 'I don't want to do this'," said a young woman called Xiao Hong, who was pregnant with four-month-old twins. "But they still dragged me in and injected my belly with a needle," the 20-year-old told Reuters. ... Another of the surrogates, who said she'd come from a village in Sichuan province, recounted how officers made her take pills then surgically removed her three-month-old fetus while she was unconscious.

This isn't the kind of policing liberals have in mind when they call for tighter regulation of the fertility industry. But the tricky thing about official intervention is that once the state gets its foot in the door, you don't necessarily get to dictate what it can and can't do.

Every time the global market in human body parts and rentals looks ugly enough to regulate , I'm reminded how much uglier things can get when the government steps in.


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