Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Wombs for rent

I came across this report from a link on the site of an outraged blogger:

The young mothers of Anand [in India], a place famous for its milk, are pregnant with the children of infertile couples from around the world
The clinic specialises in offering surrogate mothers for would-be parents around the world. Although the report comments:
the program raises a host of uncomfortable questions that touch on morals and modern science, exploitation and globalization, and that most natural of desires: to have a family
the surrogate mothers themselves seem untroubled:
Young women are flocking to the clinic to sign up for the list.

Suman Dodia, a pregnant, baby-faced 26-year-old, said she will buy a house with the $4,500 she receives from the British couple whose child she's carrying. It would have taken her 15 years to earn that on her maid's monthly salary of $25.
For now, the surrogate mothers in Anand seem as pleased with the arrangement as the new parents.

"I know this isn't mine," said Jagrudi Sharma, 34, pointing to her belly. "But I'm giving happiness to another couple. And it's great for me."
I suppose the outraged blogger felt there is an exploitative aspect to this - the rich of the first world buying the wombs of the poor of the third world, and of course that's what is happening. In that, it's similar to any trade between rich and poor countries and, like any such trade, both parties consider themselves to have benefited provided the trade is free. That claim is a truism: people only enter freely into transactions they consider beneficial.

The discomfort, really, comes from the fact that wombs are involved. That's a natural reaction, and one I share. But it doesn't seem to be rational. And, given the lack of outrage when a surrogate mother comes from a rich country, there seems to be the usual paternalism at work: poor people, especially in poor countries, are considered unable to make rational choices.

In a hundred years' time, I suspect this discomfort will be viewed with the same sort of amusement we reserve for the (largely apocryphal) stories of prudish Victorians covering table legs. We have gained control over reproduction and, on the whole, that's a very good thing. It is not, though, always an easy thing to come to terms with.

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