Wombs are not for rent
Rating: 5.00

Inside India’s international baby farm” ought to give us chills -- baby farm? Babies are not animals, they are human beings. The story is told in endearing fashion, but the ethics of surrogacy are too grim to be glossed over. As I have said many times on this blog, all human beings (and thus born and unborn children) have intrinsic dignity that is unique to us as humans. And so, the method by which children are born matters too.

In a previous post on Peter Singer’s low view of human life, I wrote that “the tendency to refer to creation of new life as 'reproduction' rather than 'procreation' implies that babies are primarily ours for the making, rather than gifts of infinite value.” The same applies to surrogacy. Some our readers may have been born because of a surrogate mother, may have used a surrogate to have children, or may be considering this reproductive technology. But before assuming that surrogacy is best for all parties involved, consider what “goods” are being advanced through surrogacy. According to Nicola Smith’s article, 50 Indian women are being paid for use of their wombs. Their wombs! Our bodies are not mere machines for reproduction and wombs are not spaces for rent.


One couple featured in Smith’s article discuss their experience with surrogacy. Alison, the mother, is quoted as saying “it’s a difficult issue and everyone has to form their own opinion.” Her view, instead of being grounded in absolute truth, is relativism. Her husband, William, adds, “I don’t personally feel bad. These women are all adults and they know what they’re doing.  The reason is mainly financial and it gives them a chance to improve their lives.  Are they being exploited?  I don’t think so.”


“I don’t personally feel bad” follows his wife’s understanding of surrogacy and babymaking as primarily a personal enterprise that affects no one else and is related only to one’s desires. The Indian women who are selling themselves as surrogates are indeed being exploited -- sure, they may be adults but mere age does not entail understanding or correctness of choice. These are women who need protection and options other than renting their wombs. The financial gain surrogates may receive neglects the intrinsic problems with surrogacy and human dignity -- our bodies are not for rent! And babies deserve to be carried in the wombs of their biological mothers. Impoverished women selling themselves are hardly improving their lives. Don’t overlook the problems and justify the issue. Having children is a deep and good desire, but this desire does not justify using any means available to have a child.


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Oh, Amanda, you poor dear, no - it's *my* apologies!! Let me fill you in on a little-known fact of life at The Point, which has two points of tension:

First, several of us long-time commenters (immortalized by Steve (SBK) as "Pointificators") envision these blog entries as a place for people to come together and discuss issues as equals, in a friendly way. It is the difference between all of us sitting at a table at Starbucks and one person bringing up a topic, versus the blogger making a speech - perhaps a harangue - on a street corner and the commenters either applauding or booing as they walk by.

Second, us selfsame long-time commenters completely recognize that we are guests here, and that not all of us behave politely. Hence, we repeatedly point out that Gina has the power to ban us - but we also make jokes about that power (the latest being "the Yardstick Of Doom, or YOD") to assure Gina that we want to keep things on a friendly level. Gina has been a terrific sport about all the ribbing her "friends" have given her. And I'm reminded by the Fourth of July that it's a characteristic of Americans to both elevate people to positions of power and then turn around and try to cut them down to size because we reject social classes. (Only the Australians are better at this, I think.) To her great credit, Gina wields her power extremely well - as if she had real handcuffs and a taser for the Truly Unruly, but a big inflated hammer (like you can get at the carnival) for the rest of us.

In addition, we try to respect each blogger as having raised an issue that is important to them. Back to the analogy of a group of friends at Starbucks, it's as if one friend really wanted to discuss something, had spent a good deal of time thinking about it, and had even prepared material for us to discuss - but then some others of us dominated the conversation with a completely different issue. The first friend would certainly feel frustrated and no little disrespected by such a move, as if they had gone to a lot of effort only to be ignored.

So all of that is to say that I truly was amused, and not at all upset, by your "clarifications" response. I would sincerely hope that my friends would call me on my bad behavior, and would feel free to treat me as an equal rather than as someone who requires careful handling, or ego stroking, or anything like that.

It's a pretty big table at this here Starbucks, and you've taken a bold step to speak up. I hope you'll do it again, because you have very interesting things to say.

And since I have a personal scruple about commenting off-topic even when it's a meta-comment like this, I'm going to add that since your post I've started to notice how I interact with those to whom I give money. This past week (Boston for the Fourth!!) I've paid waitstaff, baristas, vendors, shopkeepers, hotel staff and so on. Some went out of their way to insure that I felt a personal relationship to them (by making eye contact, smiling, saying my name, and thanking me) while others were much more perfunctory. There's a whole social custom around such interactions, especially when the interaction is repeated or persists for a long time (such as working with an attorney or other professional on a complicated situation) before payment. But what social custom would apply for womb rental, particularly when the surrogate mother lives halfway around the world, is poor, and you'll probably only see her once - yet she's given you something you've wanted so deeply? And it's sexual in nature, but it's also financial - so the nearest common analogue we have in our culture is prostitution. So I imagine a husband and wife going to get their child and feeling very conflicting emotions - particularly when you throw in Hindu culture from India versus at least nominally Christian culture from America. Do you just pay this woman, thank her, and leave - maybe giving a tip as you do at Starbucks? Or do you hug her for a long time and weep on her shoulder, and promise to send pictures of the child every birthday? You probably avoid all that by focusing on the baby, which effectively treats the surrogate mother like a prostitute - a non-entity in a very intimate situation.

It's been quite a bit to think about as I've waited in line for my grande no-whip mocha. Thank you, Amanda - thank you.
LeeQuod - my apologies, I wasnt giving you the brush off! "Clarifications" was simply poor wording on my part. Thanks for keeping the thread going!
"But we owe it to Amanda and Gina to keep this thread on-topic. I understand that the young Islamic lady who starred in the Harry Potter movies was assaulted by her father and brother, for the "crime" of dating a Hindu. That doesn't even rise to the level of womb rental. If the Muslims ruled the portion of India that Amanda mentions, how would they treat the surrogate mothers? Based on the experience of the actress, I'd guess that the surrogate mothers would not fare too well. (The article says that their Hindu neighbors dislike seeing them look pregnant.) Is this an example of adherents of other religions being truer to their beliefs (brutal though the results may be) than Christians are, Jason?"

No they aren't truer to their beliefs, and if I had meant my comments as a defense of the virtuousness of Muslims that might be of some importance. I meant them as a defense of their humanity.
The whole point Lee is not about "slurs"(they make enough slurs about us). The whole point is that it is playing with a legend that dehumanizes a whole ethnic group and which is therefore "racist" in the old fashioned sense of the word.

I am not saying that you are racist; that is not the point and I don't want to do say that in any case . The point is that, the propriety of that is rather questionable.
Having another account is not necessary because the Bible merely states the event.
Give an inch, take a YOD
Sigh. Jason, if you have a better interpretation of Genesis chapters 16 and 21, I'm all ears. I believe the Bible's account, even if that belief should slur an entire ethnic group and thereby sunder friendships that are incredibly dear to me.

But we owe it to Amanda and Gina to keep this thread on-topic. I understand that the young Islamic lady who starred in the Harry Potter movies was assaulted by her father and brother, for the "crime" of dating a Hindu. That doesn't even rise to the level of womb rental. If the Muslims ruled the portion of India that Amanda mentions, how would they treat the surrogate mothers? Based on the experience of the actress, I'd guess that the surrogate mothers would not fare too well. (The article says that their Hindu neighbors dislike seeing them look pregnant.) Is this an example of adherents of other religions being truer to their beliefs (brutal though the results may be) than Christians are, Jason?
I remember that. Talleyrand said, "It was worse then a crime, it was a blunder", when the French secret service assassinated a prince at the wrong time. Talleyrand was an insufferable jerk but he did have a sense of humor.

But it is not so much Islam being a "hot-button" issue. The similarity between that and an earlier time was coincidence. In this case the point was that you are implying that a whole ethnic group should not have existed.

To put it another way, Lee, what sort of stories do you think Arabs tell to account for the existence of Ferenghi or Jews?
"OK, Ishmael - but you're a jerk online"
Jason, apparently Islam is a hot-button issue for you, to the point that you don't like it when others of us denigrate it. For that reason I've given this some thought rather than replying to you off-the-cuff with some joke. (I was going to riff off Talleyrand; "maybe not a blunder but at least a crime" or something like that. Thoughtful takes me some time; dumb and insensitive comes naturally.)

My main point was that what may seem a good idea at the time may have severe unforeseen consequences. Sarah's decision to disregard God's promise led to Sarah insisting that Hagar and Ishmael be sent away (quite possibly to die). So we could argue that Islam's hostility to Jews originated with the Jews themselves.

But that was merely an illustrative aside. (Besides, the YOD's owner is back, and I don't want to tempt anyone to veer too far off topic lest someone - possibly me - deserve a whompin'.) Sarah is an example of going to great lengths to obtain a child, and getting a nasty adolescent as a result.

But even that was a side-issue; Amanda's major point was that people should not rent themselves sexually. (Note that in the verse Gregory (the First?) mentions, the brother-in-law is being compelled to prevent the impoverishment and maybe even the starvation of his sister-in-law. Without children, she could end up as an old woman with no means of support other than the charity of the community - an avoidable circumstance if her brother-in-law would simply do the right thing.) Treating sex - a type of the union we have spiritually with Christ - as a mere transaction is the ultimate in cheapening it, particularly where children are involved.

And I believe that's what Amanda originally meant. (But I believe her "thanks for your clarifications" did **not** mean to sound like the "thank you for your input" managerial brush-off phrase that implies some subordinate just said something stupid in a meeting that the subordinate thought was significant. Gave me a chuckle, even so.)
Jason - as Leon Kass argues, there is often wisdom in repugnance. This isn't the main thing in itself, but often an indicator we should explore - is our repugnance indicating immorality or is it unjustified hesitation?

There are many cases of "surrogate" parenting in the situation of caring, nurturing, adopting, mentoring, etc. But my point here is mainly about procreation versus the temptation to "reproduce" and see the body not as sacred but as a means to an end - something we can and should manipulate.

So, physical surrogacy is an entirely different moral issue than the type of parenting you raise, Shane, although the point is well taken.
And I acknowledged that point, Gregory. My point was that not having a sense of creepiness is dangerous, just as having to much of a sense.

In any case it seems obvious that, the eat of my flesh and drink of my blood phrase was meant to sound creepy.
Yes, in the back of the class: Moses.
Check out Deuteronomy 25:5-19. God doesn't seem to have a problem with the idea of surrogate fatherhood. Why motherhood?
It is creepy...
But then so is a religion whose followers "eat and drink" their "Savior's flesh and blood." (John 6).

Right can be just as creepy as wrong.
Well, I'm not making a passionate stand. I'm just noticing that it is creepy and while "creepy" is an unreliable indicator and has probably been the cause of dreadful prejudices, at the same time, dismissing it fully can also be a mistake.
Hmm. What about wet-nurses?
Theoretically, Amanda, what is the difference between surrogate motherhood before birth (in the womb) and surrogate motherhood after birth (through nourishment)?

Seems like you're making awfully passionate stands on awfully foggy moral issues.
Lee, you are aware that with that Ishmael thing, you just implied that a whole ethnic group was a blunder?
Ben - Yes, I do find surrogacy objectionable even among those who are participating for what they consider "benevolent" reasons. This too violates the principle I have been talking about - human dignity - because the body is sacred and not a mere tool for reproduction. As the title says, wombs are not for rent.

Lee the Bible doesn't approve of Sarah per se. But saying the existence of an entire ethnic group is a blunder has extremely unfortunate implications. Not to mention the fact that not every Moslem is clearly descended from Ishmael.

Ben yes, from the beginning of civilization there have been marriages for the purposes of "baby-making" as you so endearingly put it. In many cultures a reasonably rich family was effectively a corporation. Just watch Godfather. The implication so many liberals seem to give is that that was a dishonorable role. As that is strangely agreeing to easily with the stereotyped Klingonesque tribesmen of days of yore, one really does wonder.

And yes that attitude is slightly dehumanizing. It was a function of necessity in a culture that kind of, you know, didn't have trustworthy or competent law and plentiful food. The practicality of people in the past can be shocking to our delicate and rather spoiled sensibilities.

And yes, this sort of thing has the same excuse. At the same time it is mass-production of human beings. And it is true that most of the children involved probably will be purchased by a prosperous and affectionate family if not ideal, given that said family went to the bother in the first place. But I can't help but thinking your "Ick" sense is out of whack, given your propensity to defend a reductio ad absurdum. I have heard you do this before and I have heard others do this before, and it has made me convinced that those who spend to much time rationalizing everything(and dismissing every claim that cannot be completely rationalized), do seem to end up defending positions that are in fact a reductio ad absurdum quite frequently. Even Spock knew better.

[Ed. note -- Jason, I saw your note and moved the comment for you. --GRD]
Making my brief “Wack-a-Mole” appearance
(But Gina, don’t read too much into that).

Ben, in response to your statement, “But to read anything like modern (or even early) feminism into the Bible or early Christianity would be revisionist history. There's no need for women to have the right to vote in a Pauline or Augustinian world.”

Consider –

1) Galatians 3:28 “neither male nor female”.

2) That the seeds for women’s rights/dignity – and a plethora of other human rights – are implicit not only in verses such as the above, but especially in the substitutionary death of Christ, who loved and died for the entire human race (including fetuses, by the way).

The sad thing is that it has taken (and is taking) us this long to realize the stunningly profound implications of the cross.
Eh, I didn't say women were "disrespected" in those old cultures. It was just kinda the way things were.

And I don't think it changed much with Christianity (not for a loooong time, at least). The things I were describing were not women being mistreated or unloved per se, but having a different role in society, where they were subservient to men. That stuck around - and Paul reinforced it, for what it's worth, while commanding that husbands love their wives as Christ loves the church. That's not a contradiction, as the church is obviously to be subservient to Christ. But to read anything like modern (or even early) feminism into the Bible or early Christianity would be revisionist history. There's no need for women to have the right to vote in a Pauline or Augustinian world.

Amanda, for what it's worth, I generally agree. I think I have a little difficulty finding who's hurt by this process, so the fact that women are doing this for money is probably what bothers me most of all (and that they presumably don't have any better options, but that's India). If it were different: say, a couple here in the States where the wife had difficulty carrying a child to term, and a close friend helped them out by acting as a surrogate - would you find that as objectionable?
Emily - Yes, broadly speaking the principle of human dignity means that our bodies should not be sold/rented. So, you are correct that both surrogacy and prostitution violates our dignity.

Ben - As you know, just because something "is" does not imply that it "ought" to be. So, just because surrogacy is being offered as an option to poverty does not imply that such a recourse is appropriate. Likely surrogacy does little to secure long term financial security for women anyway; but the larger concern again goes back to dignity of the body and dignity of procreation. Babies are gifts rather than commodities bought and sold; and with such a surrogacy system as is occurring in India, babies are truly becoming commodities (exchanging money for a womb and thus a child). A parent's motive may be perceived as good, but that does not mean that renting a womb is morally righteous.

LeeQuod - thanks for your clarifications.
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