I recently read about two new-to-me innovations related to reproduction. First, Slate has a piece discussing the emergence of at-home prenatal test kits that enable you to determine the gender of a fetus as early as five weeks:
Kaplan’s reporting shows how the abortion option looms behind these tests. The Jains considered abortion but decided against it. Another woman “wanted a girl so badly that she and her husband spent $25,000 on in-vitro fertilization so that doctors could select female embryos to implant in her womb.” The woman took a test at 10 weeks to make sure she wasn’t carrying a male fetus. A third woman who got a bogus result from her test says “there are women out there who experience really big disappointment. They really want to give their husbands the little boy they want, or a little girl, and they will abort based on these results.”
One example of these tests is Baby Gender Mentor (kind of a misuse of ‘mentor’ there, eh?).
The Slate piece is actually about how ordinary it’s becoming to abort a fetus because it’s of the undesired gender (boy, did I struggle over the grammar of that sentence). I’m pro-choice, but I’d prefer if people didn’t use abortion as everyday birth control, particularly when the reason is as trivial as “I wanted a boy”. I don’t have a strong rationale for my feelings, but to do so seems paltry, and flawed at some fundamental biological level.
Your (Surrogate) Mother in India
The second innovation is described in (the awesomely-named) Amelia Gentleman’s article about commercial surrogacy in India:
Reproductive outsourcing is a new but rapidly expanding enterprise in India. Clinics that provide surrogate mothers for foreigners say they have been inundated with requests from the United States and Europe in recent months, as word spreads of India’s combination of skilled medical professionals, relatively liberal laws and low prices.
Westerners pay about US $25,000 to get a (sometimes illiterate) Indian woman to carry their baby to term. Sometimes there’s an egg donor involved as well. The surrogate mother gets about $7500. For comparison, the average accountant in India earns about $5900 a year.
One such clinic is Rotunda – The Center for Human Reproduction, at the non-encouraging URL of www.iwannagetpregnant.com.
The article is imperfect. I think profiling a gay couple needlessly complicates the ethical debate, and there’s no discussion of whether the surrogate mothers suffer any social stigma for their participation. Plus, I was left wondering about the possible physical and psychological risks to the mothers.
Halfway through, the piece gets downright eerie:
In Anand, a city in the eastern state of Gujarat where the practice was pioneered in India, more than 50 surrogate mothers are currently pregnant with the children of couples from the United States, Britain and elsewhere. Fifteen of them are living together in a hostel attached to the clinic there, waiting to give birth.
The phrase that Ms. Gentleman avoids (probably wisely) is “baby farm”. I’m reminded of The Matrix, or Cylon baby farms in Battlestar Galactica.
Who is this service for? Couples who will not or cannot adopt. I gather adoption is more costly and probably more difficult. There’s obviously the ol’ ‘replicate myself’ impulse as well. And, though I have no idea how prevalent this attitude is, parents may want a child that, in terms of race, looks like them.
I’d like to see a little survey of the Westerners who use this service, examining why they chose commercial surrogacy instead of adoption or local surrogacy via a friend or family.
The possibilities and practices of reproduction are changing incredibly fast, and I’m not sure we’re having enough thoughtful debate about these new permutations. Lots of things cloud the debate–parents’ eagerness, commercial interests, taboos, and so forth. I have more questions than answers on these topics, but I think we need to talk about them more out in the open.