DCG’s post this morning, “Man demands abortion after surrogate learns she’s having triplets,” raises important questions about surrogacy or third-party reproduction.
Third-party reproduction (TPR) refers to:
- Egg harvesting: the sale of a woman’s fertilized egg(s) for implantation in another woman who is unable to reproduce but who would bear the child; or
- Surrogacy: the artificial insemination and renting out of a woman’s womb to bear a child who, upon birth, will be surrendered to the renter.
TPR has become a booming and highly profitable “fertility industry” in many countries, including the United States, where there is virtually no regulation.
Another country is Nepal, which experienced devastating earthquakes last April and May. The earthquakes exposed a little-known surrogacy industry in Nepal when Israel sent a Boeing 747 to repatriate Israeli citizens after the first quake on April 25 (in which an estimated 8,000 people died), among whom were 15 babies born to surrogate mothers there. Eventually 26 babies were air-lifted out of Nepal to Israel, but none of the mothers. Another 100 women pregnant with babies for homosexual Israeli clients remained behind.
Alon-Lee Green wrote an op-ed in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz about the exploitation of surrogate mothers in Nepal:
“How can it be that none of the human interest stories or compassion-filled posts [about the earthquakes] mentioned these women, who came from a difficult socioeconomic background, some from Nepal and some from other poverty-stricken areas of Asia just to rent their wombs (not sell their ova, since the fathers generally prefer European genetic material)? Who now, like the babies they’ve just had, are also stuck in the disaster zone?
. . . the attitude toward these women, or more accurately, the lack of one, in the midst of the earthquake story sheds light on exactly what’s problematic about surrogacy: The surrogate mothers have become a commodity, yet another product to be bought on the open market. Or to be more precise, these women, their wombs and their time have become commodities for Israeli men.”
Once the surrogate babies are brought to Israel, they face further difficulties. Because their biological mothers are not Jewish (the ova were purchased from the US, South Africa and other countries), the babies must undergo conversion to be considered Jewish. But most rabbinical courts are very reluctant to allow the children of single-sex couples or single parents to convert.
Kathleen Sloan, in her article “The Dark Side of Third-Party Reproduction” for The Public Discourse, warns that third-party reproduction entails serious health risks and costs for the women involved.
Normally, a healthy young woman produces only one or two eggs per month, but third-party reproduction calls for more — the goal is to generate as many eggs as possible, sometimes dozens, at once. To do that, women who sell their eggs must undergo weeks of painful self-injections of carcinogenic synthetic hormones and other drugs followed by surgery for egg retrieval.
In the case of women who rent out their wombs as surrogate mothers, they must undergo a similar regimen of dangerous and painful procedures to prepare their bodies for implantation and gestation.
All of these procedures to which the egg provider and surrogate are subjected pose serious health risks.
Short-term health risks include:
- Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS), characterized by difficulty breathing, excruciating pelvic pain, swelling of the hands and legs, severe abdominal pain and swelling, nausea, vomiting, weight gain, low urine output, and diarrhea. OHSS can be fatal.
- Ruptured cysts, ovarian torsion, blood clots, chronic pelvic pain, premature menopause, infection, difficulty breathing, allergic reaction, bleeding, kidney failure, stroke, and even death.
Long-term health risks include:
- Cancer, especially cancer of a woman’s reproductive organs—ovarian, breast, or endometrial cancers.
- Intracranial pressure from ingesting Lupron, which is given to both surrogates and egg providers. Lupron is not approved by the FDA for fertility use (it is used to treat men with advanced prostate cancer). Lupron is a Categorical X drug, which means that if a woman gets pregnant while taking the drug, the fetus will be harmed.
- Future infertility.
Then there are the problems for the babies birthed by surrogate mothers. Sloan writes:
Surrogate births intentionally sever the natural maternal bonding that takes place during pregnancy. The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry published a study in June 2013 that found that “the absence of a gestational connection to the mother may be problematic.” The study also noted that children’s problems may be underreported by the procuring parents who wish to “present their children in a positive light.” The biological link between parent and child is undeniably intimate; when severed, there are lasting repercussions for both parties. […]
For the sake of donors’ privacy, the children have no right to information about their genetic history, despite obvious life-long ramifications for their health and medical care. In addition to frequently not knowing who their biological parents are, they have no way of knowing about any siblings they may have.
Lastly, but not the least, there are the problems for a society that engages in third-party reproduction. They include:
- The sale of women’s bodies (eggs & womb) for profit. How is third-party reproduction different from prostitution?
- The commodification of human life: The selling of children is illegal in the United States and many countries. But isn’t surrogacy the sale of children as well?
Despite considerable health costs and risks to third-party reproduction women, there is virtually no regulation of the fertility industry in the United States. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) and the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technologies (SART) issue recommendations that are strictly voluntary and therefore unenforceable. For example, they advise that women undergo no more than six stimulated cycles, yet some undergo ten. There are no national registries to track the health of the women who sell their eggs or rent their bodies as surrogates.
For the above reasons, the U.S. has become a popular destination for international fertility “tourism.”
Federal and state governments meddle and interfere in just about every aspect of life in the U.S., but not the fertility industry. Sure makes you wonder why.