I have three healthy children. I fell pregnant without any problems. And so it seems easy – even unfair – for me to pass judgement on couples who engage commercial surrogates in second world countries.
I have friends who struggled desperately to fall pregnant, and I can only imagine and sympathise with their struggles. There are people – particularly women – who would quite literally do anything to have a baby. Years of expensive, intrusive, mood altering IVF. Sperm donations. Egg donations. Injections. Procedures. All manner of investigations and interventions.
If and when all of that fails, where else do they turn? When the desire to have a child is so overwhelmingly strong, when it is simply impossible to accept that they will never be a parent, what do they do? When commercial surrogacy is available, when wombs are for hire, when it is simply a question of money to achieve one’s goals of having a family, of course there are people who will choose that option. I understand and empathise.
People will literally do anything to have a baby.
We all know the issues related to commercial surrogacy. We have all read the story of baby Gammy, and the recent revelations about the Australian couple who left an unwanted twin behind in India. We all know that commercial surrogates are being exploited; that the power and financial differential between Indian and Thai surrogates and the commissioning potential parents is so great that there is no genuine consent.
But we also know this: It is not going to stop. We can criminalise commercial surrogacy, but it will continue, unregulated and exploitive and risky for surrogates and clients. Think of abortion, the other side of the fertility coin. It can never be abolished, just made safer or more dangerous by legalisation.
And there is another reality that we fail to consider. There have been around 800 surrogate babies brought into this country in the past five years. Out of those, two have made headlines as ‘abandoned’ babies. Perhaps there are more, but the numbers are still small. When considered as percentages, most Australian babies born to commercial surrogates overseas are very much wanted and cherished. All babies born are at risk of neglect or abandonment – the womb of the natural mother does not come with any guarantees of a safe or healthy or nurtured life. And yes, baby Gammy was deserted, but his sister Pipah would still be at risk of sexual assault by her convicted sex offender father if she had been born to his wife; the circumstances of her birth do not alter that fact at all.
I’m not advocating for commercial surrogacy. It is not an option I ever would have considered (yes, easy for me to say, but I do feel passionately about that). But we cannot ban commercial surrogacy; it is here to stay, we can only attempt to regulate it to ensure the safety of all parties involved. There need to be strict guidelines in place regarding screening of potential parents as per any adoption arrangement; payment of and healthcare for surrogates; visa arrangements for babies so that new parents aren’t left in limbo; and custody of and responsibility for babies from the moment of conception to thwart abandonment or child trafficking.
We need to recognise that with commercial surrogacy, the cat is out of the bag. Like abortion, our best option is to focus on risk management, and retain compassion and empathy for all those involved. And for those of us who never had to consider a surrogacy arrangement, we need to thank our lucky stars.
Because people will do anything to have a baby.