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In Utero Inc.

Posted on Apr 9, 2008

By Ellen Goodman

    BOSTON—By now we all have a story about a job outsourced beyond our reach in the global economy. My own favorite is about the California publisher who hired two reporters in India to cover the Pasadena city government. Really.

    There are times as well when the offshoring of jobs takes on a quite literal meaning. When the labor we are talking about is, well, labor.

    In the last few months we’ve had a full nursery of international stories about surrogate mothers. Hundreds of couples are crossing borders in search of lower-cost ways to fill the family business. In turn, there’s a new coterie of international workers who are gestating for a living.

    Many of the stories about the globalization of baby production begin in India, where the government seems to regard this as, literally, a growth industry. In the little town of Anand, dubbed “The Cradle of the World,” 45 women were recently on the books of a local clinic. For the production and delivery of a child, they will earn $5,000 to $7,000, a decade’s worth of women’s wages in rural India.

    But even in America, some women, including Army wives, are supplementing their income by contracting out their wombs. They have become surrogate mothers for wealthy couples from European countries that ban the practice.


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    This globalization of baby-making comes at the peculiar intersection of a high reproductive technology and a low-tech work force. The biotech business was created in the same petri dish as Baby Louise, the first IVF [in vitro fertilization] baby. But since then, we’ve seen conception outsourced to egg donors and sperm donors. We’ve had motherhood divided into its parts from genetic mother to gestational mother to birth mother and now contract mother.

    We’ve also seen the growth of an international economy. Frozen sperm is flown from one continent to another. And patients have become medical tourists, searching for cheaper health care, whether it’s a new hip in Thailand or an IVF treatment in South Africa that comes with a photo safari thrown in for the same price. Why not then rent a foreign womb?

    I don’t make light of infertility. The primal desire to have a child underlies this multinational Creation Inc. On one side, couples who choose surrogacy want a baby with at least half their own genes. On the other side, surrogate mothers, who are rarely implanted with their own eggs any longer, can believe that the child they bear and deliver is not really theirs.

    As one woman put it, “We give them a baby and they give us much-needed money. It’s good for them and for us.” A surrogate in Anand used the money to buy a heart operation for her son. Another raised a dowry for her daughter. And before we talk about the “exploitation” of the pregnant woman, consider her alternative in Anand: a job crushing glass in a factory for $25 a month.

    Nevertheless, there is—and there should be—something uncomfortable about a free-market approach to baby-making. It’s easier to accept surrogacy when it’s a gift from one woman to another. But we rarely see a rich woman become a surrogate for a poor family. Indeed, in Third World countries, some women sign these contracts with a fingerprint because they are illiterate.

    For that matter, we have not yet had stories about the contract workers for whom pregnancy was a dangerous occupation, but we will. What obligation does a family that simply contracted for a child have to its birth mother? What control do—should—contractors have over the lives of their “employees” while incubating “their” children? What will we tell the offspring of this international trade?

    “National boundaries are coming down,” says bioethicist Lori Andrews, “but we can’t stop human emotions. We are expanding families and don’t even have terms to deal with it.”

    It’s the commercialism that is troubling. Some things we cannot sell no matter how good “the deal.” We cannot, for example, sell ourselves into slavery. We cannot sell our children. But surrogacy business comes perilously close to both of these deals. And international surrogacy tips the scales.

    So, these borders we are crossing are not just geographic ones. They are ethical ones. Today the global economy sends everyone in search of the cheaper deal as if that were the single common good. But in the biological search, humanity is sacrificed to the economy and the person becomes the product. And, step by step, we come to a stunning place in our ancient creation story. It’s called the marketplace. 
    Ellen Goodman’s e-mail address is ellengoodman(at)
    © 2008, Washington Post Writers Group

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By purplewolf, January 5, 2010 at 2:41 pm Link to this comment

Don’t forget that several years back our great and honorable politicos elected by the public thought that impregnating mentally and physically handicapped women to become surrogates was a good idea. Never mind that many of these human incubators, as that is what we are reducing women to, have an I.Q. of maybe a 9, estimated by mental health experts.Having worked in this field of work for several years, I was mortified at the idea of this ever happening. It is known that women with these pre-existing conditions have a much higher rate of producing defective fetuses and these products(babies) going to be left awaiting for an adoptive family, like many of the babies/children now sitting in these agencies with varying degrees of problems. Do we need cannon fodder for the wars that bad? 

There are more than enough unwanted babies/children waiting to be adopted now,no need to create more in an over populated world that we have now.

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By Surrogacy, January 4, 2010 at 10:27 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

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By julieshapiro, April 13, 2008 at 4:12 pm Link to this comment

I’ve been thinking and writing about surrogacy, including the outsourcing problem, for some time on my own blog.  (  Ellen Goodman is surely right about the problem of commodification.  But it also seems problematic to tell women what they can and cannot do with their own bodies.  Additionally, it’s not hard to believe that some women choose to be surrogates at least in part because they are compassionate—they care about women who struggle with infertility and want to help.

It seems like it may be too simple to just condemn surrogacy outright or to just license it.  My own sense is that the problem lies (as it so often does) in commercialization.  That means that there is a lot of line drawing to be done—never easy but worth the effort.

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By Tanya, April 13, 2008 at 12:56 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

When my daughter decided to become a surrogate, I was absolutely heart broken. She almost died from the experience. In the midst of the emergency c-section, I watched how the paid-for-parents had no regards for her health, with more concern for their child.

My family had no roles in this matter. We were not grandparents but were asked to attend showers and parties. Our granddaughter talks about all the sisters and brothers she has.

Everyone would say to me, “how wonderful, such a gift.” But my stomach still turns every time I hear the word. I felt like an animal, that my cub had come in with a different clan within her. I took a non-violent communication class just to get through this.

I still look for other parents who have gone through this. My daughter continues to be a surrogate and also an egg donor which has resulted in another birth. It is not a win/win situation for us.

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By kath cantarella, April 13, 2008 at 6:13 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

‘eliminates a potential life-threatening situation’

for whom? the selfish person with all the money.

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By kath cantarella, April 11, 2008 at 1:48 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

in a position that they have to rent their wombs? Why do some women have to become prostitutes, or marry men they don’t want? ‘Why’ should always be the first question.

The problem starts at a deeper level. No woman in this resource-rich world should be in a position where she has to marry to survive or to rent her body in any other way in order to achieve a reasonable standard of living.

Pregnancy and childbirth is dangerous and causes permanent physical damage to your body, including your brain. So, put your cash in the slot out comes a littl’un in a few months time? God please save the world from people who are stupid enough to believe such things.

If you have the money, why don’t you give it to these desperate women without demanding they bear your child? Then go adopt a child who already exists. There’s plenty of kids no one wants because they are no longer babies or they have behavioural problems, but they are all just kids who only need sincere love and encouragement to flourish.

Supreme human selfishness is no revelation to any of us.

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By Blackspeare, April 10, 2008 at 4:50 pm Link to this comment

Don’t be too quick to judge!  Womb leasing is a win-win business.  The womb owner gets a much-needed financial benefit with top-notch medical and pre-natal care.  The womb lessee gets to continue her lifestyle, pursue an uninterrupted career, avoid a time consuming intrusion, escape much pain, and eliminates a potential life-threatening situation.  Sound pretty good to me and in away makes the “stork delivery story” just about true!

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By Tom Doff, April 10, 2008 at 9:35 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Considering the penchant of republican politicians for renting the wombs and other private parts of poor women (and men), foreign and domestic, I’d say the business aspect has fallen to deplorable since the debasement of the dollar.

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By omop, April 10, 2008 at 7:51 am Link to this comment

“Woman in India gives birth to a baby with TWO, THATS TWO FACES. What ever happened to real actual sex and pregnancy?

And more importantly in a business sense what about the adage of ‘buyer beware?”

And last but by no means least will the newborn be an “american citizen” or a citizen of india; or in time given the increasing closeness between India, Israel and the US a dual citizen babe?

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By hippy pam, April 10, 2008 at 7:16 am Link to this comment

How else is an AMERICAN SOLDIERS WIFE able to care for her Injured Husband-Family-Home???These Women are USING the only thing THEY HAVE TO BARTER-YES-BARTER-Women in INDIA do it every day in order to pay the bills…......[Please understand.I AM BEING SARCASTIC}

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By purplewolf, April 10, 2008 at 6:59 am Link to this comment

Does anyone recall Mary Beth Whitehead? We have been there and done that until the government decided that American women cannot rent their own uterus. It is direct property of the U.S. government and not your own to do with as you want. So ladies, your reproductive system belongs not to you, but to your conutry to dictate as they see fit. If there was a way the crooks in politics could have found a way to exploit this for their benefit without a major uproar from the American public, they would have done it decades ago.

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By cyrena, April 10, 2008 at 4:06 am Link to this comment

My God…that’s all I can say. The market place for humanity.

No way did even Orwell figure on this.

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