Commercial Surrogacy Is a Form of Organ Trafficking

Einat Ramon
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Einat Ramon

Haaretz appears to view commercial surrogacy as a favorable thing and even proposes allowing homosexual couples to benefit from the practice just as heterosexual couples do (“The right to surrogacy,” August 28). However, in the Western world discussions about medical ethics increasingly include voices that claim surrogacy is no more than reproductive organ trafficking, accompanied by a violation of a person’s basic rights.

The new liberal discourse, which commonly uses phrases such as "the right to surrogacy" and "the right to parenthood" is misleading and lacks an ethical-historical foundation. The reality this discourse describes contradicts the human rights mentioned in the 1948 UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights -- both in terms of presenting surrogacy as an accepted social norm, and by erasing the identity of parents in cases of children born from sperm or egg donations.

Commercial surrogacy violates article 4 of the UN Declaration, which states that "No one shall be held in slavery or servitude." Yet one aspect of commercial surrogacy that makes it more akin to slavery is the fact that such agreements often revoke a woman’s control over her own body for the surrogacy period.

According to a study by Haifa-based feminist organization Isha L'Isha, the surrogacy process takes an average of three years, from the time the treatments begin to the time the baby is handed over. During the time in which the agreement is valid, the woman does not have the right to terminate the pregnancy, she cannot eat or drink what she wants, and is generally forbidden from doing as she pleases. During this time, she is enslaved to those with whom she signed the agreement.

There are those who claim that serving as a surrogate or egg donor is like being an astronaut who can’t get off the spaceship while he or she is working. Yet this is a faulty comparison. Every profession, including cleaning or maintenance, requires periods of study and specialization. But surrogacy, like prostitution, does not require any studies and therefore cannot be seen as a profession. Liberal thinking about surrogacy contains a contradiction - between the desire to punish those using women's bodies for prostitution and the demand for an increased use of women's bodies for surrogacy.

Thus far, only women in dire financial straits or those who want to fulfill a life dream, such as buying a house, have engaged in surrogacy. The daughters of judges, academics and businessmen, the liberal proponents of paid surrogacy and those individuals who use surrogates’ services would never be surrogates themselves - even if faced with dire financial problems. And like prostitution, paid surrogacy would never be presented in kindergartens as an attractive profession, or one we hope our daughters would pursue. Surrogacy isn't an acquired "profession" or “line of work”; at best, it is a "job."

Another argument in favor of surrogacy deals with "freedom of occupation": It claims that just as every woman has the right to work as a prostitute, she also has the right to work as a surrogate. However, some occupations create social norms that contradict our approach to human rights. There are occupations that harm the moral, universal norms of all civilizations, including liberal society - which certainly does not want to see women, or humans in general, earn a living from selling or renting their organs.

Civilized countries, such as Canada, view commercial surrogacy and the sale of eggs or sperm as a violation of human rights and, therefore, a criminal offense. The only surrogacy permitted in these countries is “altruistic” surrogacy, and the only payment allowed in such cases is for medical expenses.

Another option would be to allow a woman function as a paid surrogate only once in her lifetime, in an agreement between two women, and only in cases where there is obvious medical need. That would prevent a norm of men trafficking in women's bodies. Such an arrangement could be seen as a fertile woman agreeing to help an infertile one. Any other legislation (which, under the guise of “equality” would only increase the inequality between women and men, rich and poor) would only create norms that go against the enlightened, liberal, socialist, feminist world.

Einat Ramon teaches Jewish thought and gender studies at the Schechter Institute of Jewish studies.

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