On Surrogacy

The market for gestational surrogates should be on our minds more. Why? Well, Surrogacy, as it exists, is a basket case of ethical, economic, and philosophical issues and as a result, I am strictly Kantian. I am Kantian partially because it offers me solace as I don’t have to ponder the grey zones and because it is the best system so far that fuses reason and emotions in this sense. People should be treated as ends in themselves. Surrogacy, to my mind, is particularly tragic for three reasons.

  1. It is basically prostitution as one sells their body for money as a last resort. It fails the categorical imperative of treating humans as ends in themselves.

  2. It commercializes babies. Fails this categorical imperative as well, as babies and life are seen as means to ends.

  3. It is very unnatural. It is cruel to have a woman pregnant and not expect a baby in the social sense of that definition. It also is not obvious to me that the surrogate mothers can and should divorce all feelings of connection to the life growing inside them who depend on them for nine months for their survival. This also fails the Kantian categorical imperative of treating people as ends.

The checklist for prostitution in my book is pretty short. It is selling one’s body for money. It is treating one’s body as a means to an end rather than an end in itself. Surrogacy falls into this category—even sperm donation and, to a lesser extent, selling one’s blood to make a quick buck. The economist in me says that if there is a need in the market, people fill that need through voluntary transactions. As long as no one is forced into surrogacy, it’s okay. First of all, it’s not obvious that one’s body is a resource to be allocated efficiently. Further, I don’t see many Harvard educated Ph.D.’s running around aspiring to be surrogate mothers. On the contrary, it falls too squarely on the shoulders of the poor. Here’s an economic framework with which we can view the topic.

Economics is plagued with the question of what to produce, how to produce and for whom to produce. The first of the triad applies to the question of the markets for surrogacy. This is an instance where, normatively speaking, the fact that a market exists here at all is troubling. Not only that but there seem to be perverse incentives brought forth by the weird laws around surrogacy and what I call “gestational arbitrage.” This term describes the situation in India, where surrogates are relatively cheap and access to these surrogates is subsidized by technology and transportation. This way, through IVF, one can fertilize an egg, ship it to countries like India and get a surrogate mother for a price where the transaction cost of getting the eggs, sperm, having them fertilized, and transferring them is significantly lower than the price of going through the process in any country in the West. This is an issue I hope to pursue in further writings. What makes it generally worse is the fact that there are 20 million orphans in India alone.

As one can probably already tell, I am generally uncomfortable with the idea of surrogacy. It is one of those human issues that play too much with our nature, emotions, and evolution that reason barely has a chance. Surrogacy is further problematic because it cheapens the surrogate mother’s dignity and honor. We see this clearly through the fact that most surrogates in India have to hide in a communal hospital until they have the child. Whether we like it or not, pregnancy and the ability to have children is a fundamental part of a woman’s identity, and we as a society should be more sympathetic to those who, for reasons beyond their control, can’t or lose the ability to do so but the fact that we should be sympathetic buttresses my point. Thus, the unbundling of the entire process of conception, gestation, delivery, and care for economic reasons cheapens a woman’s dignity and robs her of the joys of the process while leaving her with the pain. Here’s my conclusion: It is hard for me to say convincingly that a market for surrogates should not exist; that said, I would not advise anyone I love to participate in it.

Certainty rating: 67%


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