Surrogacy: a dark industrial chain that spans the world

After Zheng Shuang’s hidden marriage, surrogacy and childbirth, abandonment and other incidents were exposed, it caused a tsunami of public opinion. The public focus has shifted from the emotional and wealth entanglement between the two to the discussion on the public issue of commercial surrogacy and its underground industrial chain.

Like CCTV’s comment on the Zheng Shuang incident, “surrogacy is explicitly prohibited in our country”, but this still cannot prevent couples like Zheng Shuang and Zhang Heng from going to the United States, Ukraine, Georgia and other countries that allow surrogacy to borrow other women’s wombs. , Give birth to their own children.

This is a discussion about reproductive rights and the status of women, but at the same time it is more about the issue of freedom and rights among unequal individuals. Commercial surrogacy is destined to be the exploitation of the weak by the strong, and the protagonist in it is the commoditized low-level women.

The BBC’s 2013 documentary “Surrogate” once went deep into the Indian surrogacy industry chain, filming the clinic of the famous doctor Nina Patel, which includes surrogate mothers, families looking for surrogacy, and newborns representing the success rate of the clinic. And the joys, pains and tears related to fertility in the world.

Facing a huge controversy, Patel, the clinic owner of the “culprit” in the film, said, “Everyone feels angry because they feel that the surrogate is being used. But I think everyone in society will use other people for development.” No one can escape, this is a cruel world.”

The logic of capital is domineering and cruel. It is worth noting that not all surrogacy countries in the world have been beaten to death. Most states in the United States allow commercial surrogacy, and Ukraine and Georgia are the first options for finding surrogates. Western European countries such as the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Denmark allow surrogacy services without payment.

When people oppose surrogacy one-sidedly, they can calm down and think about it. What are they opposing against surrogacy?

Poverty is the root cause
At the end of a busy street in Anand, Gujarat, India, is the yellow-walled clinic of obstetrician Nina Patel. The white patients who have been here are all exclaimed. The clinic has “everything, far more hygienic and advanced than it looks.”

Pregnant women with big bellies were assembled in the six-person room and the eight-person room. There was no TV, computer, or newspaper. They have nothing to do and chat with each other every day, but they are forced to stay here for 9 months-the clinic arranges very strict nutritional meals for them. “People who come here have nowhere to go,” Patel asserted. “They know that there is no gain without pain.”

In the documentary “Surrogate”, surrogate mothers in India are poor women at the bottom. Most women already have children. Many of them are illiterate and can only earn more than a dozen dollars a day at work. They are eager to use surrogacy money to support their families, or buy a house to change their destiny.

A mother who provided two surrogacy services in Patel’s institution, the biggest thought is that she hopes her child can receive education, “Don’t become a woman like me in the future.”

A surrogate mother looks at the pictures of her surrogate child on the wall of the clinic in New Delhi, India

For the women inside, surrogacy is a life-saving straw. Each surrogate mother will be paid US$8,000, or US$10,000 if she is pregnant with twins, in the form of installments.

Research by Sheila Shalawanan in the Institute of South Asia, Department of Anthropology, University of Heidelberg, Germany revealed that everything about an Indian surrogate mother will be priced, such as her appearance, caste, religious beliefs, skin color, education, breast milk status, previous birth/surrogacy How many children, the gender of the children, etc.

Poverty is the biggest “disease” in them. Therefore, in front of the “golden master” Patel, they can only follow their orders. Even after turning the uterus into a commodity, they have no bargaining power.

How to reflect this?

Faced with the high risks of childbirth and pregnancy, surrogate mothers have no right to repent. If they have an abortion or miscarriage within 3 months of pregnancy, they can only get compensation of $600. If this time exceeds 3 months, the compensation doubles: $1,200. That’s it.

/ Commercial surrogacy is destined to be the exploitation of the weak by the strong, and the protagonist in it is the low-level commercialized women. /

More importantly, during the 9-month period, the blood between the child and the mother’s fetus is thicker than water, which can easily make the mother feel attached and loving.

A surrogate mother waits for delivery in the clinic in Kharkov, Ukraine

So, in order to avoid all these risks from happening, as early as when signing the surrogacy contract with the women, Patel would ask: “Nine months later, the child you give birth has nothing to do with you, can you?”

“Yes.” The responses are all affirmative.

All the dissatisfaction and frustration will easily erupt after 9 months, but can only endure the past, as if there were no tears on the faces of women.

For example, an Indian woman named Edan gave birth to a boy for Barbara and Michelle, a Canadian couple who had been unable to conceive normally for more than 20 years. After the child was born, because Barbara had no milk, Edan became the child’s nanny, and twice a day, she regularly came to Barbara’s residence to play with the child and feed him.

For Edan, she obviously has a different affection for this child who calls someone else’s mother. Barbara also felt the intimacy of the two, and her comment was: “What does it matter if one more woman loves my child?” But in the last month she was about to leave, she still reduced the number of times Edan met her child.

A nurse holding a newborn surrogate baby in a clinic in Kiev, Ukraine

There is no reversal at the end of the documentary. Edan silently handed the child to the biological parents amidst Barbara and Michel’s thanks. She couldn’t resist, not even struggling, she could only cry at the van that took the child away.

/ In the process of commodity trading, surrogate women experience countless life and death and pain. /

When women “actively” become commodities
In the process of commodity trading, surrogate women have experienced countless separations and pains. But Patel, who opened a surrogacy clinic, said that there is no return without pain. Her implication is that women choose surrogacy on their own initiative in order to obtain high returns.

However, the situation in which they made their choices was mostly trapped and pressed by life with nowhere to hide. They don’t have a high degree of education, can’t judge the risks they will bear in the future, let alone the result of choosing this path.

Professor Saravanan of the Department of Anthropology pointed out that after signing the contract, few Indian women he contacted knew that surrogacy meant that they had to give up their right to make medical decisions. In other words, if there is an accident, the fetus will be treated first, not the surrogate mother.

These women are also easily coerced by their families and husbands. Saravanan found that families often set a “profit-making goal” for the surrogate mother, and then stop the surrogacy until this goal is reached. There was even a female husband who stopped selling vegetables to force her to become a surrogate. Finally, she gave the money from three surrogacy to build a house for her family.

Similar situations have also appeared in Ukraine, Georgia and other countries. In the documentary “Mother’s Hotbed: Black Birth of Surrogacy in Ukraine”, most women choose surrogacy because of family poverty or war. In the “the new motherland” documentary, a surrogate mother tells that because of a difficult life, her husband thought about selling a kidney, which eventually prompted her to embark on the road of surrogacy.

According to public reports, the medical insurance for surrogacy in Ukraine is very rudimentary. After successful surrogacy, the women will be paid between 15,000 and 20,000 US dollars. But the loopholes in the law cannot protect this group of women who give birth to others. For example, Olga Korsunova, a 27-year-old Ukrainian woman who had her fourth surrogacy, reported that women “often” have difficulty getting the money they were promised in the past from intermediaries.

The non-profit surrogacy organization “Families Through Surrogacy” (Families Through Surrogacy) once estimated the average cost of surrogacy in countries where commercial surrogacy is legal. The US is around US$100,000, while Ukraine and India (Note: the legalization of commercial surrogacy will be cancelled after 2015). It fluctuates between US$40,000 and US$50,000, which is roughly half of the “US price”, and more than half of the benefits go to institutions Not a surrogate.

Under strong intermediaries and loose laws, the health protection of the fetus and pregnant mother has become the lowest link in the Ukrainian surrogacy industry chain. During last year’s COVID-19 pandemic, Ukraine, where borders were blocked and traffic controlled due to the pandemic, experienced shocking scenes of large numbers of babies stranded, lying in cribs waiting to be fed.

According to local media reports, some stranded babies were placed in rental apartments, and it was not the medical staff but the nanny who took care of the children. What determines the health of a child depends on the placement of major intermediary agencies. “There is no supervision, and they don’t pay taxes.”

It is difficult for countries to reach consensus
The surrogacy industry, which treats the female uterus as a commodity, has squeezed countless women in Ukraine and India. In the eyes of many people, surrogacy is still a product of a patriarchal society. Some women see opposition to surrogacy as a big vote to protect women’s rights.

However, a problem that cannot be ignored is that even if there is a lot of controversy, even if it is explicitly prohibited, surrogacy is still an industry that has clear market needs and is difficult to restrain. In recent years, countries around the world have announced the prohibition of surrogacy, such as India, Thailand, and Mexico, but they still cannot prevent people in need from moving to other legal countries to find services. This phenomenon was subsequently referred to as “surrogacy medical tourism.”

Pokalchuk, a Ukrainian human rights activist, believes: “If it is banned, commercial surrogacy will not disappear. It will just become more irregular and cause more difficulties for all parties.”

Pokalchuk said: “In Ukraine, surrogate mothers are paid for their services, but we must understand that surrogate mothers should not only receive money, but also a full range of services. For example, what if there is an unexpected situation? Give a 100% guarantee. And all this needs to be regulated.”

In contrast, in the United States, states that have legalized commercial surrogacy have issued detailed regulations for surrogacy. Before the implementation of surrogacy, the surrogate parents and the “surrogate mother” each hire a lawyer to deal with the physical conditions of both parties, the medical behavior during the surrogacy period, the mental health of the “surrogate mother”, the life norms during pregnancy, and possible accidents And so on, make a careful assessment. The clinic will not begin medical operations until the contract is notarized.

In the American drama adapted from the novel “Little Little Fire” by Chinese writer Wu Qishi, the protagonist Mia chose surrogacy to make a living when she was studying in New York. Repent of giving the child to his biological parents. The breach of contract by “surrogate mothers” will also be allowed within the scope of the laws of some states in the United States.

However, the law is the bottom line, guaranteeing equality in rules and rights, but it cannot guarantee equality in results.

Claire Green, a lecturer in the Faculty of Law at the University of Cambridge, pointed out that since it is difficult for countries around the world to reach a consensus on surrogacy, it may be difficult to formulate uniform international standards. In this way, governments of all countries will face a difficult situation: the prosperity of the global surrogacy market stems from differences in laws in various countries, and this difference leads to a lack of supervision.

Such consequences have led to the current global situation. People who want surrogacy can still change the way to achieve surrogacy in other countries. The uterus and newborn babies bought at a low price have become the biggest victims of the game between human nature and interests.

Under such circumstances, some countries will give priority to children’s rights. Green said that this means that the government has to accept reality and turn a blind eye to behaviors that have ethical problems in foreign countries.