Surrogacy on the Cover of Newsweek

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In yet another sign that there’s a resurgence of interest in this topic, surrogacy is the cover story in this week’s Newsweek magazine. Interestingly, the focus is on the women who are surrogates. I think this consistent with recent press coverage, but quite different from when the main news was the wonders of technology or ART more generally. It deepens my conviction that it is a good cultural moment to be thinking about these things.

There’s quite a bit to say about this article, but I wanted to offer a brief take on how it is set up. The authors describe surrogacy as “an act of love but also a financial transaction.” This suggests is an interesting way to categorize surrogacy transactions. At one end of the spectrum you might place the ones in India I’ve previously discussed. They fall pretty firmly into the “financial transaction” realm. (Remember that in some the parties never meet. And no one portrayed the Indian women as engaging in acts of love.)

By contrast, and at the other end of the spectrum, surrogacy in Britain is (at least formally) not a financial transaction at all. Surrogates cannot be paid for their services. It’s considered to be altruistic or compassionate. Clearly on the “labor of love” side of the balance?

As far as I can tell, all the cases discussed in Newsweek are commercial surrogacy–the surrogates are in fact paid. Indeed, there’s only fleeting recognition that someone might actually do this absent the money. (I think the listing of places where surrogacy is permitted is deceptive in this regard–it is really a list of where surrogacy contracts will be enforced and where surrogates can be paid.)

What may be most interesting is the initial insistence that, despite the payment, these are not purely commercial transactions–a sale of services or worse yet, goods. Perhaps given the prevalence of a highly romanticized notion of pregnancy these days, it’s impossible to reduce pregnancy to a service. But isn’t it a bit telling that there aren’t a lot of wealthy surrogates? (The article notes that an increasing number of surrogates are military wives, which speaks to the poor compensation provided to service members.) In any event, it seems to reflect some desire to place the US in the middle of the surrogacy spectrum.

I’m happy to agree that portraying surrogacy as a simple sale of services misses a great deal. This article is actually very rich in detail, in providing a more detailed and nuanced portrait of surrogates, considering a range of circumstances and experiences.

–Julie Shapiro (cross-posted to Related Topics)

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