Thursday, December 11, 2008
My heart sank when I saw Alex Kuczynski's article, Her Body, My Baby, in the New York Times Magazine on her experience as the beneficiary of the services of a surrogate mother. I have a child because of the wonders of advanced reproductive technologies. Fortunately, my wife and I did not have to go the surrogacy route, and I doubt that we would have. Still, I fear that people reading articles like Kuczynski's will think (justifiably based on her article) that surrogacy is now the new option for rich people who want biological children without all the inconvenience of pregnancy.
This fear was concretized through this Thomas Frank opinion piece in yesterday's Wall Street Journal. Mr. Frank seems to think that Ms. Kuczynski, a fashion writer, evangelist for cosmetic surgery and wife of a hedge-fund billionaire, is too thick to realize that "reproduction for hire" is the product of her "billionaire-centric world."
Goodness! Thomas Frank is making me defend Alex Kuczynski!! What Frank misses is that Ms. Kuczynski went through "11 failed I.V.F. cycles and four failed pregnancies, stretched out over five years." I don't think anybody who has not experienced the rollercoaster ride that is assisted reproduction can appreciate the heartache encompassed within that sentence. Even someone as privileged as Kuczynski opted for surrogacy only after trying to avoid it through five years of what must have been devastating emotional turmoil. Contrary to Mr. Frank's assertion, it is not "the market" but absolute desperation that drives people into surrogacy contracts. I can see why that is lost on Mr. Frank, but that has more to do with Alex Kuczynski than it does with surrogacy.
Mr. Frank is right, however, that surrogacy has "been the subject of much philosophical and political dispute," and his article begins to set out the parameters of that dispute. Unfortunately, he forecloses serious consideration of the issues with rhetoric about women "putting their biological functions up for sale like so many Jimmy Choos."
Please. I recognize that a surrogacy contract, like any contract is designed to be a mutually beneficial transaction, and that it is different from other mutually beneficial transactions in that it does indeed involve the use of one woman's body for the benefit of another couple. That does indeed raise significant issues, but they are not issues that will be resolved through sloganeering or by treating all people who resort to surrogacy like the moral equivalents of Alex Kuczynski. The alternative to paying women to be surrogate mothers is not paying women to be surrogate mothers or not permitting infertile couples to have their own biological children. Rather than simply bashing people who enter into surrogacy contracts, let's talk about the implications of the options.