The New York Times ran a feature story on surrogacy on today’s front page, and I’m left wondering, as I often do when this topic makes news, what most people are taking away from the story. The article reminds us repeatedly that “commercial surrogacy” (the term for a pregnancy in which a surrogate is compensated, as opposed to “altruistic surrogacy”, in which she is not) is illegal in most of the world. The writer also references some horrifying stories about intended parents abandoning their surrogates and their offspring or contracting multiple surrogates simultaneously with the intention of giving some of the babies produced up for adoption or aborting whichever fetuses don’t meet their exacting standards. They’re mostly unverified anecdotes, the kind of thing that makes most of us who had wonderful experiences with surrogacy shudder and then think, “Hmmm… really?” But I won’t deny that there are some legitimate horror stories out there.
The problem, in my opinion, isn’t surrogacy itself. Everyone in my situation — my husband and me, our egg donor Susie, our surrogate Tiffany and our kids themselves — benefitted from the experience. No one was exploited and no one has any regrets. (This seems like a good spot for the obligatory shameless plug of my book, “Mommy Man: How I Went From Mild-Mannered Geek to Gay Superdad”, which tells my story in full.) Stories like mine are pretty common. The other parents I know who’ve grown their families through surrogacy all have similar experiences to relate.
That doesn’t mean we should ignore the potential for things to go wrong. Surrogacy remains largely unregulated, and as such, it’s conducted on kind of an honor system, the only true regulator being the consciences of those engaged in it. The honor system works because most people are honorable. Most college students know that cheating is wrong, and most people have enough respect for life and women’s bodies to treat surrogacy with the care and moral reverence it deserves.
The big difference between a college honor system and the one around surrogacy comes in the stakes. When college students break the honor system, the fallout is minimal. Now and then a cheater gets an A, but that barely cheapens the hard work of the majority who earned their grades legitimately. The stakes with a pregnancy, though, are much higher. No one wants to see even one woman exploited or one baby abandoned.
It’s time for the honor system surrounding surrogacy to end. The U.S. should be proud of the fact that we’re the destination of choice for people seeking surrogates from overseas, and we should lead the rest of the world by example by showing them how surrogacy should be conducted. There needs to be greater regulation of what’s become a big industry, in order to protect the rights and lay out the responsibilities of intended parents, surrogates, clinics and surrogacy agencies alike.
Just a few thoughts…
Surrogates and egg donors need to be fully informed of the medical and psychological risks they’ll be undertaking. Surrogacy isn’t for everyone, and no one should feel like they’ve been coaxed into it against their will. Likewise, all potential surrogates and egg donors should be screened medically and psychologically to make sure that they’re fit for what the procedures entail.
There should be limits placed on embryo transfers. Intended parents should accept that surrogate pregnancies, like any other, carry certain risks. Just because you’re not carrying a baby yourself, you don’t get off easy when it comes to the big ethical issues that pregnancy sometimes raises.
Surrogates and intended parents should have detailed, enforceable contracts. Before they ever enter into an agreement together, surrogates and intended parents should discuss every potential issue that may arise during pregnancy and make sure they would agree on how to handle it. One of the more common horror stories you hear about surrogacy arises when the fetus develops a birth defect and the intended parents want to terminate the pregnancy, but the surrogate doesn’t. In those cases, the surrogate and the parents should never have gone forward together. This is one of the reasons I highly recommend anyone pursuing surrogacy go through a legitimate agency. In my book, I complain a lot about the agency my husband and I used, but one thing they did right was to make sure our surrogate was a good match for us.
There are people arguing that surrogacy should be made illegal, and that breaks my heart, because I owe my family to the process and to all the people who helped us through it. So many wonderful families are created through surrogacy, and so many women have had their lives enriched by becoming surrogates.
We all know there are unethical people out there on every side of this phenomenon — intended parents, clinics, surrogacy agencies and even surrogates themselves. Exploitation does occur, some stories don’t have happy endings, and it’s only a matter of time before a major horror story leaves us all shaking our heads. Let’s not let that happen.
This is an important issue. Let’s keep talking about it, and let’s acknowledge that if surrogacy is kept safe, legal and regulated, there will be a lot more stories like mine, a lot less cause for concern and a lot less fearmongering, legitimate or otherwise.