Responsible Surrogacy

Information regarding the ethical aspects of the process

This section briefly introduces the main arguments against surrogacy in feminist circles. It should not be considered an exhaustive summary of all existing commentaries.

Feminist criticism of surrogacy arrangements is generally divided into two groups:


The first focuses on the very idea of surrogacy. Such criticisms relate, for example, to the treatment of the female body by others in a manner that objectifies the surrogate and violates her dignity and autonomy. Such criticism does not focus on clauses of different surrogacy agreements and looks at the broader picture of the treatment of women in society. Surrogacy reflects gender stereotypes and social conventions that affect the basic dignity of women, in that it views their bodies, and particularly their reproductive organs, as an object for the use of others (either with or without receiving compensation). These stereotypes work against women’s struggle for dignity and equality in various fields. Such criticism might compare, at times, surrogacy arrangements to prostitution services – in that they both utilize the female body in a manner that could be perceived as offensive, humiliating and dehumanizing. Arguments against such criticism compare surrogacy to any other use of the human body in the workforce (such as the work of porters) or to other occupations that are considered legitimate despite relying heavily on the use of the body (such as sports or athletics). Some of the arguments against altruistic surrogacy also stem from this viewpoint, claiming that women’s willingness to participate in such processes is affected by traditional concepts about the role of women in childbirth, the importance attributed to motherhood and parenthood, and the pressure women might be put under to participate in such arrangements.


Another critical point of view refers to the concrete aspects of surrogacy, not only from the moral and theoretical viewpoint, but in relation to the conditions in which surrogacy is currently being conducted around the world. Such criticism would address, for example, the disparities in power between the intended parents and the surrogate, which are particularly relevant when the intended parents come from middle-to-high classes in first world countries (even if they do belong to a minority group that is discriminated in other ways, such as gay men), and the surrogate is a woman from a third world country, which is often poor, uneducated and devoid of critical support circles. According to this view, when the differences in power are so large and poverty plays a major role in decision-making, it is impossible to reach an agreement that would be really fair and not exploitative. This approach claims that the terms “free will” and “agreed-upon contract” have no real meaning when one side of the agreement is highly limited. This criticism also refers to the effects of the procedure on the surrogate: medical and physical effecs (due to risks involved in taking hormones, fertilization and the pregnancy and childbirth themselves); effects on the surrogate’s family; and emotional effects. Some studies show, for example, negative experiences and feelings of alienation of some surrogates towards their own bodies during pregnancy.


Another aspect of this line of criticism concerns the wages and compensation received by the surrogate, which may not always be adequate for the dedication and demands expected from her and for the risks she is exposed to. This puts surrogacy in the larger scope of exploitation of women in the third world by people from richer parts of the globe. This also reflects the differences in power between the parties, in that, for example, surrogates are not necessarily aware of the range of risks to which they are exposed, and therefore can not assess the appropriate compensation for them. In this context, this line of criticism also suggests that the surrogate’s decision making is not always based on full information about the process. Another aspect of this criticism concerns the cultural gap regarding surrogacy in different countries and its impact on the status of women who become pregnant from a person that they are not acquainted with, or give a child to others after birth. If the surrogate does not enjoy adequate support circuits that help her during the process, this problem worsens. A response to the criticism about payments to the surrogate may claim that relatively high amounts are paid in different cases, and that intended parents can choose any agreed-upon amount that they see as fair, reflecting the requirements of the surrogate.


Some of the issues raised with surrogacy can be improved based on the advice provided by this site (issues such as exploitative and unfair clauses in the contract, restriction on the surrogate’s rights for termination, demands that endanger her health, etc.). Others can be overcome by combining some efforts, good will and moral commitment to the decent treatment of the surrogate, considering her as a partner in giving life to the intended parent’s child. It is also worth noting that different approaches, even within the feminist discourse, attribute importance to the surrogate’s choice and her decision to play that role, even if other women see it as a process that violates her freedom and dignity. Some see the process as a way for professional and economic empowerment of the surrogate, granting her a sense of control and the ability to improve her situation and ensure better living conditions for her and her family. However, it should be noted that even measures aimed at improving the surrogacy arrangement and making it as fair and respectful as possible, can not ignore the limitations of reality, the considerable power gaps between the intended parents and the surrogate and  the significant economic necessity that drives women to agree to serve as surrogates despite the fact that they would not necessarily choose this option if they were of higher socioeconomic status.

 

For further reading (in Hebrew):

  • Carmel Shalev, “surrogacy arrangements – a legal and ethical perspective”, Herayon MeSug Acher 191 (Shulamit Almog and Avinoam Ben-Zeev, editors, 1996).
  • Nuphar Lipkin and Etti Samama, “Surrogacy in Israel – 2010 status, and proposed changes to legislation”, a report by the organization Isha L’Isha – Haifa Feminist Center, 2010.
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