The ethics of outsourcing childbirth

A pregnant woman in Kalupur. (Meena Kadri photo/Flickr) A pregnant woman in Kalupur. (Meena Kadri photo/Flickr)

India, one of the top international destinations for couples hoping to hire women as surrogates for pregnancy, is poised to ban the practice in most cases. Currently home to over 2,000 surrogacy clinics, India is acting in response to complaints from women’s groups and human rights advocates who point to the many abuses that follow from commercial surrogacy. As the European Parliament noted in 2011, surrogacy can “augment the trafficking of women and children and illegal adoption across national borders” (see our editorial, “Persons, Not Products,” 10/20/14).

Questions remain about how effective the ban will be. The proposed law includes little detail about enforcement measures. And if India is successful in curtailing the practice, another country, like Cambodia, could emerge as a destination for international families looking for surrogates.

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Commercial surrogacy is restricted in most U.S. states, with the notable exception of California, where it has been legal for many years. But U.S. dollars surely flow to India and other countries where the practice is legal. In the West surrogacy is often presented as simply another opportunity for families struggling to conceive a child. But couples who pay for a surrogate should be aware of the thorny ethical questions involved.

A biological child is a wonderful gift that should be celebrated. But having a child is not a right to be pursued by any means necessary. At a time when many couples choose to have children later in life, assisted reproduction has become a billion-dollar industry. Couples are willing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to conceive a child. The drive to start a biological family runs deep, touching on fundamental human desires, but careful attention should be given to where this primal impulse can lead.

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