For the Sake of Family: When Technology and Ethics Cross

The confluence of advanced technology, adoration of the family and the availability of Third-World women to supply our needs creates a tough ethical problem.

Avirama Golan
Avirama Golan
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A gay couple and their child at a conference on surrogacy in Tel Aviv.Credit: David Bachar
Avirama Golan
Avirama Golan

It’s a story that during normal times would have attracted a lot of attention here. A baby was born with Down syndrome in Thailand to a surrogate mother, and his biological parents have abandoned him. It made news around the world. His parents are Australians who promised a relatively small sum to the young Thai surrogate and then pressured her to have an abortion in her seventh month of pregnancy, which would have endangered her own health and killed both fetuses that she was carrying, including a second, normal one.

Now it turns out that the father of the two is a convicted pedophile. It’s another case of the ugly face of the West in which, in an effort to satisfy Westerners’ desires, a weak citizen of the Far East is used as if she were simply an inanimate object.

It’s an Israeli story too, however, because relative to the size of its population, Israel is a major consumer of surrogacy services in Thailand. Three months ago, a surrogacy law was passed here that puts same-sex and single parents on the same footing as heterosexual couples with regard to everything related to surrogacy services. The law was passed with great difficulty, despite the impressive efforts of Health Minister Yael German and on its passage, members of the Habayit Hayehudi party filed an appeal seeking its repeal.

Israeli society nurses a number of internal contradictions but those related to what are deemed “family values” are the most problematic among them. The Israeli family is the broadest of common denominators, deeper and more primal even than national sentiment during times of emergency. It’s the invisible thread linking radical liberals and conservatives. In a splintered and frightened society, the family is portrayed as the sole anchor. Childless couples here are not considered a family.

Children are also the ticket to social legitimacy, but that ticket is a very expensive one. Unlike those who have managed to have children without difficulty and naturally, everyone else, including older single people, infertile couples and individuals and single-sex couples, need a fortune if they want to exercise their new option and have a baby through surrogacy.

Surrogacy services in Israel are cumbersome and inaccessible, as are other matters such as marriage, conversion, adoption and organ transplantation. The state, which with on one hand legislates enlightened laws, on the other hand caves in to the power of the rabbis and drives future parents to the wild free market in the Third World. Therefore, just as only the wealthiest of Israelis can arrange to have 24-hour nursing care for their elderly parents, only the well-off can arrange to have a baby using their own sperm and eggs. It is carried out in countries where poor women rent out their wombs, either legally or otherwise. The better our economic circumstances, the more we can buy the finest of human merchandise. And it’s all for the sake of family.

This arrangement took a hit this week, however, when the Thai government decided to stiffen the rules limiting commercial surrogacy. Israelis waiting for that expensive, perfect baby of theirs may now run foul of the law.

It’s hard to pass judgment on the desire to have a child, but undoubtedly the confluence of advanced technology, adoration of the family and the availability of Third-World women to supply our needs creates a tough ethical problem.

It could be otherwise, through surrogacy in Israel or adoption, but making that possible would require the government to break free from the Orthodoxy that is foiling surrogacy by married women, adoption by single-sex couples and other policies. Experience shows that the government favors the current order of things in which only the rich have the options, at the expense of poor foreigners – but who takes the poor foreigners into account?