Although it is not widely heard of in America, in Asian countries such as China and India, the practice of surrogacy is not uncommon. Surrogacy, the practice of carrying a baby for someone, can be gestational, in which the surrogate is implanted with a fertilized egg that has no genetic relationship with her, or traditional, in which the surrogate is artificially inseminated and is genetically related to the baby. Couples who are desperate to conceive, or wish to circumvent the reproduction laws in their countries have created a booming black market that is unregulated, leaving surrogate mothers to fend for themselves.
Different countries handle surrogacy differently. In the United States, surrogacy centers usually screen all applicants for surrogates and require a medical reason for seeking surrogacy. The entire process is fairly straightforward, albeit the process takes 15 months and requires foreign couples to make several visits to the United States. Zhang, a woman in her early forties, paid around $130,000, which is the standard amount, for her surrogacy, but costs can go up to $150,000. However, considering that the practice of surrogacy is banned in China, the price is a small one to pay.
In the United States, legal matters such as obtaining citizenship or legally establishing the biological parents’ claim to the child are relatively simple. In other countries, surrogacy and the aftermath of unexpected situations are much more complicated. Couples desperate for children provide the demand and poor women desperate for cash provide the services while private clinics and 1,000 secret baby brokers help keep the business alive. The reproduction legislation as well as rising infertility has led couples to see surrogacy as the only solution. The rise of surrogacy is attributed to the increase in wealthier, better-educated Chinese couples waiting until their late 30’s to start a family, a trend that makes it harder to conceive. Lack of proper regulation, and completely outlawing surrogacy has only created a black market that produces over 10,000 births a year.
The conditions in which Chinese women live might be a part of the problem as well. For example, although not yet scientifically proven, research indicates that heavy pollution may contribute to infertility. Surrogacy in America gives Chinese couples a way to avoid the national reproductive restrictions that only allow one child per family, as families still face penalties if the government learns of multiple children families. The newborn child automatically becomes a U.S. citizen, enabling the child to sponsor their parents for a green card at the age of 21.
There are also deeper reasons for Chinese people who look towards surrogacy. In the case of a Ms. Zhang, a 49-year-old woman from Shanghai who asked to be known only by her family name, her 8-year-old daughter committed suicide in 2012. She was the only off- spring of Ms. Zhang and her husband due to the one-child policy of China, which meant that it would be difficult for Ms. Zhang to conceive considering her age. The couple attended counseling and contemplated on the idea of surrogacy for a year. Although medical tests showed that her eggs were too old to be fertilized, Ms. Zhang suggested using another woman’s egg instead, saying that “At least with his sperm it will look a bit like her…It will be a bit like having my child back — half the blood will be hers, so my heart will be soothed.”
Not only is there much debate and ethical controversy surrounding practice, but there are also unresolved questions concerning the status and well-being of the baby in unexpected situations. For example, a Japanese couple that divorced and left their baby unclaimed in India for two years demonstrates countries’ inabilities to deal with situations without any sort of regulation. Like any other couple interested in conceiving a child, the Japanese couple applied for a surrogate mother in India. However, once the situation became complicated, the baby dealt the brunt of the problem. A month before the child was born, the biological mother divorced her husband and disowned the child. Even though the father wished to take the baby home, an Indian adoption law, the Guardians and Wards Act, which states that a single father cannot adopt a girl child, prevented the father from doing so. The surrogate mother abided by the terms of the contract and left the baby and went home. If the baby, whose nationality is Indian, doesn’t get an Indian passport after the adoption process is complet- ed, she will inevitably become orphaned. A similar story also happened last year in October, when an Australian couple abandoned one of the twin babies born to a surrogate in Del- hi because they already had a child of the same sex.
In some cases, Chinese couples look for cheaper options when searching for surrogates. However, these surrogates have been reported to run away while pregnant, leaving Chinese couples at a loss. In one agency, about 40% of the surrogate births are Chinese and in many others it’s more than half. Surrogacy agencies, such as Baby Plan, offer a more expensive and controlled program. Chinese couples fly to Thailand, where surrogacy is legal, to donate their sperm and egg. A Chinese surrogate is flown there, too, and receives the implant. The three return to China and the surrogate is installed in a private apartment with a full-time assistant. To make sure she does not get ideas about fleeing with the customer’s fetus, she is cut off from her family and receives daily visits from a psychological counselor. To be safe, the surrogacy agency hires women to visit every day to make sure the surrogate does not form emotional attachments to the baby they are carrying, which often occurs.
Despite the relatively large profit earned in a short span of time, surrogate mothers bear most of the risks and have few legal protections. There are physical risks from hormone treatment that allows the surrogate’s womb to accept the fertilized egg and the pregnancy, as well as psychological problems. Ms. Yang, a Chinese woman who became a surrogate to earn money for her sick father, followed the procedure. However, her father died during her pregnancy. Baby Plan did not allow her to return home for his funeral because she would have missed hormone treatments and as the agency was more concerned, “the client family would have lost their child”.
In India, where surrogacy is legal but unregulated, surrogates are left to fend for themselves. Once again, India failed to pass the Assisted Reproductive Technique bill, a bill which would have created regulations on the practice and commercialization of surrogacy, leaving women vulnerable to unfair exploitation. One of these women is Divya, a surrogate who was promised 3,000 rupees every month throughout her pregnancy by an ART clinic in Delhi, the nation’s capital, but only left with barely 1,300 rupees after the middlemen who connected her with the clinic claimed their payment, leaving Divya unable to pay for her 8-year-old son’s school fees.
Unfortunately, Divya is only one of many women who have been exploited. Commercial surrogacy may seem strange, but for some women, it can be the only way for them to have children of their own. For many poor women, commercial surrogacy can be the only way for them to make a large sum of money in a short amount of time. So the actual problem does not lie within the practice of surrogacy, but in the lack of regulation and protection for these surrogate mothers who are forced to live in isolation and paid in unfair terms. Hopefully, commercial surrogacy will no longer be dismissed as an unusual practice, but recognized as an official business in order to implement regulations and protect these women.
By Christy Bae ’19
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