‘Assembling the Global Baby’

There’s not a whole lot to say about this Wall Street Journal article on the rise of “global surrogacy” — a new industry that uses “an international network of surrogate mothers and egg and sperm donors . . . to produce children on the cheap and outside the reach of restrictive laws.” Or, rather, there may be a lot to say, but I just sat there with my jaw on the floor the whole time I was reading it, so I’m not going to be much help.

Rather, I’ll just excerpt a few bits here and let readers take it away in the comments. Apologies in advance for the length, but it deserves reading.

On the various “baby packages” offered by PlanetHospital, the California company profiled in the article:

PlanetHospital’s most affordable package, the “India bundle,” buys an egg donor, four embryo transfers into four separate surrogate mothers, room and board for the surrogate, and a car and driver for the parents-to-be when they travel to India to pick up the baby.

 

Pricier packages add services like splitting eggs from the same donor to fertilize with different sperm, so children of gay couples can share a genetic mother. In Panama, twins cost an extra $5,000; for another $6,500 you can choose a child’s gender.

On the legal tangles created by using surrogates from one country, with egg and sperm donors from other countries, to be adopted by parents in a third country:

Critics say the business is strewn with pitfalls. “The potential for abuse on many levels is big,” says Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, discussing the industry in general terms. “You’re straddling all these [international] boundaries to buy the ingredients and the equipment.” Mr. Caplan calls it the “wild, wild west of medicine.”

Laws are vague and can conflict from country to country. In 2008, baby Manji was born to an Indian surrogate just weeks after the divorce of her Japanese parents-to-be. (The family wasn’t a PlanetHospital client.) According to a Duke University case study in legal ethics, it led to a tangle of Indian and Japanese law that first prevented the little girl from being issued a birth certificate, and later made it difficult for her father bring her home to Japan. Months went by. To fix the problem, Japan issued a special humanitarian visa.

“This area of law is very unsettled,” says Evgenia Terehova, PlanetHospital’s lawyer. “There can be all sorts of unforeseen circumstances.”

And what happens when surrogacy works a little too well:

Surrogacy’s complexity can give rise to extraordinarily difficult decisions, such as whether or not to abort. This can happen because clinics sometimes implant multiple embryos into multiple surrogates to improve the odds: If one miscarries, there are still viable pregnancies. However, if several implants successfully lead to pregnancy, clients face ending up with not just one or two children, but many.

Mike Aki and his husband, a Massachusetts couple, confronted this question. The couple planned on having two children. But their two surrogate mothers in India each became pregnant with twins.

At 12 weeks into the pregnancies, Mr. Aki and his husband decided to abort two of the fetuses, one from each woman. It was a very painful call to make, Mr. Aki says. “You start thinking to yourself, ‘Oh, my god, am I killing this child?'”

He didn’t think of his decision as an abortion, but as a “reduction,” he says. “You’re reducing the pregnancies to make sure you have a greater chance of healthy children,” Mr. Aki says. “If you’re going to bring a child into this world, you have an obligation to take care of that child to the best of your abilities.”

There is so much more that is excerpt-worthy, but I’ll stop there and encourage people to read the whole thing for themselves. Mark Shea’s formulation of the two cycles of history — “What would it hurt?” followed by “How were we supposed to know?” — springs to mind.

Margaret Cabaniss

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Margaret Cabaniss is the former managing editor of Crisis Magazine. She joined Crisis in 2002 after graduating from the University of the South with a degree in English Literature and currently lives in Baltimore, Maryland. She now blogs at SlowMama.com.

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