In recent years the trend of celebrities buying babies has grown exponentially. We now regularly hear stories of well-known figures becoming parents ‘through surrogacy’ and see announcements on social media of their newborn’s arrival, usually accompanied with a stylized photo of the babies’ feet. Headlines like “Celebrity becomes parent” is commonplace with Paris Hilton, Amber Heard, Cameron Diaz, Rebel Wilson, adding to the trending list on Twitter. The birth mother rarely gets a mention and perhaps this is to protect her identity, but we are told by these same news stories what a wonderful thing it is to be a ‘surrogate’ so why not fully celebrate the wonderful, altruistic act a surrogate mother has done for someone less fortunate?
Most of these articles normalise surrogacy, presenting as it no different from buying a mansion or signing a business contract. We may see claims of ‘fertility issues’ as a reason to justify the practice of commercial surrogacy or – as with Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas – a ‘busy schedule’ is to blame for the lack of natural conception. How that same busy schedule allows time for raising a child is best left to our imaginations.
There is no room to bring ethical issues to the forefront, the glossy magazines will tell us it was the surrogate mother’s choice, so it is justified. Under the auspices of body autonomy and ‘choice feminism’ we must respect that a woman selling her child for money is to be respected and never questioned. ‘Her Body Her Choice’, a slogan once used to fight for legal abortion and further access to safe terminations has been rebranded, but this time disingenuously. If we were more honest it would be Her Body My Choice.
When a woman engages in surrogacy, we may hear talk about “free choice”, it is something a woman chooses to do. Ok, but when most surrogate mothers engage with surrogacy due to financial need, must we accept this without question? Did we ever see a celebrity renting her womb to “help” other women fulfil their desire to become mothers?
No financial need is a free choice; it is a necessity, survival. When there is a need, there is no room for free choice. There may be 100 different types of cereal on the shelves, but you can only afford the cheapest one for your children. Is that choice? If you rely upon benefits or welfare, can you use that money to buy a designer handbag if that is what you choose? We can only make free choices after our basic needs are covered. Most women engaging as surrogate mothers do not have their basic needs covered; they usually have children, a family to support – can any of these news articles tell us how a wealthy, famous woman has rented their womb out to “help” another women less fertile than herself become mother?
This has long been held up as aspirational, for their wealth, popularity, appearance and glamourous lifestyles. Teenagers may become infatuated with a particular singer, looking to emulate them or heartbroken when their favourite band splits up. Those who once influenced fashion trends now flood the market with their own brands, from clothing and make-up brands to a shape underwear, all with a ‘name’ on them. When a Birkin bag is seen on the arm of a Oscar Winning actress, coffee cup in her other hand, the item will not only fly off the shelves but there will be a long waiting list for the next batch of bags to be delivered. The counterfeit markets are booming from cheap fakes just so those on a medium income can mimic a celebrity and, as it is with surrogacy, is not the factory workers making the big bucks.
When the of surrogacy cost is reduced and access made possible we can all have what a wealthy celebrity has, a fake designer bag can be very convincing. Kim Kardashian once paid more for a handbag than she did for a surrogate-born child. (The average cost of a surrogacy pregnancy is $90,000, depending on the US State, it is far cheaper in Ukraine, Mexico, Columbia, etc where poor women can be exploited for their eggs and womb rental.) But contrary to jokes from an Oscar Wilde play or BBC Correspondent’s tweet, babies are not handbags and not should they be carried around in one.
The comments sections of news article on this topic may see people promoting the idea that everyone as a “right to be parents”, though no human rights law even mildly suggest this. Others argue that “adoption” is not easy for gay couples in some countries, so surrogate mothers should be provided for them to realise their dreams of a biological family. This is done in place of fighting for better adoption conditions.
Infertility and Social or Situational ‘Infertility’
Fertility issues and advancing years mean it is difficult for many women to conceive and deliver a healthy baby, but neither are a reason to use women as a ‘proxy’ to deputise and carry the risks of pregnancy and labour to produce a child. Human beings have health problems, something inherent to the human condition. Some maybe lose their vision, a leg, an arm, teeth, or feet. Are these people entitled to a new human part to supplant their health problems? Many will agree that it is not reasonable and that organ trafficking is horrific. Nevertheless, when it comes to renting a womb it is a solution to ‘infertility’. Why did that speech change? Why is buying a healthy liver from a poor, vulnerable person abhorrent, but renting a woman’s womb and paying for a newborn is acceptable? Could it be that society normalized using women as commodities and that renting one is just not that bad?
Homosexual celebs couples with ‘situational infertility’ are well-known for renting wombs to fulfil their desire to make a family, and in cases like Nacho Palau and Miguel Bosse, who, after breaking up, separated their children, taking each one their biological boys according to the paternity. This decision left no room for sibling bonding between the four boys. In other cases, like Jeff Lewis and Gage Edwards, who’s acrimonious split after the birth of their surrogate-born daughter, now co-parent and arguments over remaining frozen embryos were tame in comparison to the law-suit from the birth mother of Monroe. Ricky Martin and his partner, Jwan Yosef, received backlash when these two men said they were “pregnant”…how many women were involved to produce their family of four? Though surrogacy scandals are not limited to homosexual couples. Actress Jamie Chung has the ‘social’ type of ‘infertility’ and claimed pregnancy would hurt her career so she outsourced it. Zheung Shaung hoped to cancel the baby order she placed with two women when she split from her boyfriend. The babies she had commissioned became inconvenient and she wanted these women, each seven months pregnant at the time, to get abortions.
Parenthood as a Human Right
From ‘fertility privilege’ of heterosexual couples and women without fertility struggles, to the claims of gay equality rights to IVF, there is a move towards a ‘right to parenthood‘. In country law and human rights in general, there is no right to become a father or a mother, it falls in the wish or dream category. To be a mother or father is a hope, a desire, not a human right.
Commodities, not humans
The discussion about surrogacy ignores a vital element—the children. Nobody addresses what biological, psychological, or developmental consequences impact these luxury babies. There is not enough research and no interest in figuring it out. However, specific facts prove that children are not the priority since, in many cases,” like in many cases in Ukraine and Thailand. In these cases, the law and contract policies with the agencies did not consider the fundamental right of the children to be protected as human beings but instead treated them as mere ‘things’. No parent in any country is entitled or has the right to abandon their children if they are born with a disability since this is a crime but babies bought as a ‘faulty product’ are rejected and abandoned for not being perfect.
As adults, knowing they were the product of surrogacy may be a traumatic discovery. Jessica Kern, a ‘product’ of commercial surrogacy asks why her mother gave her away but kept other children, she too asks why her commissioning and legal parents bought her and of decision makers, why this is permitted. Is Jessica the only surrogate-born child, who in her adulthood is asking this question? No.
Children in the surrogacy trade are not considered human beings but commodities, a social media tool, and now this celebrity ‘luxury item’ is available to the general public via the law-makers affording access and with the media usefully promoting it. There are more and more justifications for surrogacy in the media, but only a few truly explore even the most basic questions. The fact that it is already allowed demonstrates the direction we are going in. A society where money and power can buy anything, where a adult wish, realised through cold hard cash, has more weight than the rights of babies. Children are now the new Birkin. Through the popularisation of this questionable practice facilitates the increase the trade of children and the exploitation of women.
Normalising the buying and selling of babies and women as a tool to solve ‘infertility’ is not acceptable.