A number of same-sex couples have recently called for the legalisation of commercial surrogacy in Australia because of the inconveniences and dangers associated with contracting foreign surrogates. But what’s important to recognise is that surrogacy is dangerous to children and degrading to mothers no matter where it is practiced.
Social scientist and women's health researcher Renate Klein explains the risks inherent to surrogacy:
Surrogacy is dangerous. The surrogate mother - often callously called a "gestational carrier" - is required to submit to a three to four week drug regimen in order to prepare her womb for pregnancy. These drugs can make her very sick, possibly with long-term effects.
In addition to the battery of prenatal tests she must undergo, there is also the risk of pregnancy complications - including ovarian torsion, ovarian cysts, chronic pelvic pain, premature menopause, loss of fertility, reproductive cancers, blood clots, kidney disease, stroke and, in some cases, death.
Because commercial surrogacy is illegal in Australia, many couples engage in “reproductive tourism,” which has become a multi-billion-dollar industry. Though engaging a foreign surrogate comes with its own set of legal troubles.
Monica Doumit reports on the surrogate conditions in Thailand, a popular destination for reproductive tourists.
Until recently, Thai law required any surrogate mothers to already have children of their own, in case the pregnancy or birth damaged her ability to have children of her own later in life. It also required the surrogate mother to be single because, if she was married, her husband automatically becomes the child’s father under Thai law.
What this meant was that the only women who were eligible to be surrogates were single mothers, leading to the risk that vulnerable women could be exploited in surrogacy arrangements. The risk of exploitation is increased because many of these women cannot afford lawyers to review their contracts, and sign documents that they do not understand.
There have also been stories emerging in recent times of women being taken advantage of by the surrogacy agencies, including the withholding of fees and the requirement to be in supervised accommodation for the duration of the pregnancy.
In addition to the legal qualms, surrogacy also presents a bioethical issue. Women who act as surrogates are essentially being used as commodities for their reproductive capabilities – many times to fulfill the market demands of same-sex male couples. Women are not commodities; their bodies are designed to form an intimate connection with the child they carry for nine months.
“With surrogacy, you’re not just putting something in a toaster and having it come out, with no give and take,” explains Elizabeth Reis, professor of gender and bioethics at Macaulay Honors College at the City University of New York. “Now that egg donation is all over the place, we don’t want to think that because someone gave an egg, they’re a mother. But should these women—donors and surrogates—have some kind of relationship with the child?”
While marriage leads to children, same-sex marriage leads to this disturbing trend of surrogacy and exploitation. It intentionally strips away the child’s inherent right to his biological father and mother, while exposing women who sell their wombs to unnecessary health risks.
With all of the dangerous consequences that come along with same-sex marriage and commercial surrogacy, why would we ever want them legalised in Australia?