Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Rent-A-Womb: The Exploitation of India's Poor

Reading "India Nurtures Business of Surrogate Motherhood," I couldn't help but feel a chill run down my spine. The article describes the booming business of Western couples who are unable to reproduce naturally paying surrogate mothers in India to carry fetuses to term. The proprietors of the businesses in India try to put a positive spin on the story, extolling the financial benefits to the women. And, truth be told, the practice does produce a significant amount of income for these women. However, what I found to be truly ridiculous was the following assertion:
“Surrogates do it to give their children a better education, to buy a home, to start up a small business, a shop,” Dr. Kadam said. “This is as much money as they could earn in maybe three years. I really don’t think that this is exploiting the women. I feel it is two people who are helping out each other.”
To help each other?! If these women are truly so generous, I wonder how many of them would sign up for this task on a voluntary basis. That's right: zero. This is obviously all about the money. To try to frame it in any other way is dishonest.

The framing of the practice does matter a lot to how the enterprise is perceived. Even as the piece praises the payoff to the women, the language belies the dehumanizing commercialization of this practice:
Commercial surrogacy, which is banned in some states and some European countries, was legalized in India in 2002. The cost comes to about $25,000, roughly a third of the typical price in the United States. That includes the medical procedures; payment to the surrogate mother, which is often, but not always, done through the clinic; plus air tickets and hotels for two trips to India (one for the fertilization and a second to collect the baby).
Collect the baby? I know this is semantics, but the word 'collect' objectifies the baby. Think about it: you collect your baggage from baggage claim, you collect coins, you call collect. No one collects humans. Well, until now.

Another troubling aspect is the nature of the transaction. Rich Westerners are basically preying on these women's financial situation. Such poverty is implicated in other exploitative practices such as prostitution or substandard working environments. How is this any different? Even if the women are cared for now, what is to prevent unscrupulous providers from entering the market and truly exploiting the women? The whole system seems ripe for abuse.

I suppose this argument is a bit strange, considering that I have previously described a market for organ donations. However, in that post, my implicit assumption was that all sides had relatively equal socioeconomic standing and information. This case differs in that these women are clearly not on the same footing as their benefactors in either resources or education. While I hope some good will come of this arrangement, I fear that the moral hazard is too great to let such a practice continue.

No comments:

Post a Comment


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Related Products from Amazon