The Gambit, a New Orleans–based weekly paper, recently reported on a gay Louisiana couple’s quest to become parents via commercial surrogacy or, in simpler terms, contract pregnancy. Commercial surrogacy remains illegal in the state thanks to back-to-back vetoes from Governor Bobby Jindal in 2013 and 2014. As a sidestep solution, Peter Dandridge and Jeremy Moore hired a surrogate mother in India to have their designer embryo implanted in her and carried to term. Today, they are the parents of two-year old Cecilia, through a process the article calls “expensive and complicated.” It’s unfortunate that many of the real costs and complications of surrogacy are glossed over in order to justify their efforts.
Long before Moore and Dandridge traveled to Mumbai for the embryo-implantation process, they were engaged in modern-day eugenics by designing the child of their dreams. It wasn’t enough for them to have a child. The thousands of dollars that they likely shelled out for an egg donor ensured that they could custom-make their Cecilia. According to the profile, “Moore and Dandridge were able to choose particular personality traits and specific talents that might be passed on genetically.” The result: a medical student who also plays the cello and is a ballroom dancer.
After an invasive egg-harvesting procedure — a process that is ignored in this article — twelve eggs were yielded to begin the next stage of production: embryo implantation in the surrogate. Nine months later Moore and his mother were on a plane to Mumbai to witness the birth of their daughter and granddaughter. Today, Celia has an array of individuals that function in various capacities, from a biological father, a social father, a surrogate mother, and a biological mother. “Cecilia will never wonder if she’s wanted,” Moore remarked.
But, as in many areas of life, a want does not yield a right.
The big business of assisted reproductive technologies is buttressed by the false idea that anyone — single, married, gay, or straight — has a right to a child.
Moore and Dandridge — like many infertile heterosexual couples and many mothers and fathers single by choice — desired to have a child of their own. And when the limits of biology prevented them from doing so, they sought to buy.
Moore hired an agency, the now-defunct PlanetHospital, and paid a flat rate of $65,000 to cover most expenses. A standard surrogate pregnancy in the United States generally runs well into six figures, and so many couples are looking to emerging medical markets to accomplish their goals at a cheaper rate. In a similar tale, an Arizona couple about whom I’ve written here, twice used international surrogacy in India to have their three children — all for a grand total of only $35,000.
But it’s the hidden costs of surrogacy that present cause for concern. Surrogate pregnancies effectively reduce the surrogate mother to a mere vessel and her children to commodities. The entire process is roiled with ethical, medical, and legal consequences.
When couples enter into a surrogacy contract, they immediately become customers or clients to a surrogacy agency. The surrogate — who is undergoing a nine-month intensive medical commitment — is viewed merely as essential equipment necessary to deliver the product: a child.
Many of the women who agree to serve as surrogates are enticed by what are seemingly significant promises of compensation. But as the Daily Mail recently reported, the process is riddled with corruption and conflict. In a recent case, a San Diego surrogate for a Brazilian couple is now approximately $100,000 in debt from legal action to protect her and from medical costs that the intended parents refuse to pay. Along with the financial costs, she endured an emergency caesarian section as a part of the delivery process — a high-risk medical procedure that, unfortunately, is all too common with surrogate pregnancies. Moreover, it’s almost impossible for surrogate mothers to offer truly informed consent, as there have been no long-term scientific studies of the risks from hormones given to surrogates to foster egg production or implantation. The large sums of money offered to these women too often cloud their better judgment, and it’s only after the fact that they’re able to speak out and voice their regret.
And what does this mean for the “wanted” children created from this process? In addition to the genealogical bewilderment that many of these children express when they grow up, it’s hard for many of them to accept that their conception was simply arranged by contract. In other words, the creation of their life was just a part of the regular functioning of the market for children, which, regrettably, is growing.
When commercial surrogacy met its first legal challenge in the United States, in 1988, with the infamous Baby M case in New Jersey, Chief Justice Robert Wilentz, in his unanimous opinion for the state’s supreme court, wrote: “There are, in a civilized society, some things that money cannot buy. In America, we decided long ago that merely because conduct purchased by money was ‘voluntary’ did not mean that it was good or beyond regulation and prohibition. . . . There are, in short, values that society deems more important than granting to wealth whatever it can buy, be it labor, love, or life.”
Peter Dandridge and Jeremy Moore in Louisiana — and many couples throughout the Western world — disagree. Their desire for a child is admittedly “expensive and complicated.” But they barrel over those limitations to achieve what they want — as long as the price is right. And in the business of commercial surrogacy, the limits are boundless.
— Christopher White is the director of Research and Education at the Center for Bioethics and Culture Network.