Surrogacy is a practice that has the potential to bring an abundance of happiness and joy to a family. Those who want biologically related children but are unable to conceive naturally employ this method regularly in the United States. Because of advances in medical procedures, technology and the limited probability of birth defects in the developing fetus, in vitro fertilization (IVF) has become an increasingly popular option. Between 2006 and 2010 alone, there was a 1000% increase in the international surrogacy market. In the U.S., commercial surrogacy can cost upwards of $200,000, while in low-income countries, it can cost half that amount.
Opponents of surrogacy contend that it amounts to baby-selling and violates ethical principles, citing that the surrogate is used as a means to an end, especially given the “exploitative” nature of surrogacy in developing countries. However, they fail to recognize the unparalleled economic benefits to surrogates. Surrogacy can be regarded as a profession with work to be done and compensation to be received. Although this may seem to be a cold-hearted mindset at first glance, it is important to recognize the magnitude of economic benefits to low-income families, who depend on this procedure to support themselves financially. Viewed through this lens, it is apparent that there is a net benefit on both sides.
The family is able to gain maximum utility because of the happiness that a child inevitably brings, and the surrogate gets financial compensation that they otherwise would not be entitled to. Proponents of surrogacy rightfully argue that autonomy is key in this process. Just as a worker at a company, for example, has the ability and right to quit at any time, it is wrong to say that the surrogate should not be able to
do just the same. If surrogacy is exploitative, then it must be extrapolated that any job in which an employee receives financial compensation is also exploitative, which can never be justified. This sensitive definition of exploitation would diminish societal productivity. The surrogate is not forced into any procedure, and many say that they are treated with even more comfort and care than they would experience at home. They also relieve their families of the burden of caring for them toward the latter end of their pregnancy because their meals and hospital bills are covered. Evaluating the process purely through bioethical principles, it is clear that the surrogate makes an autonomous decision when they voluntarily sign up to participate in the procedure. Beneficence and utility are also accounted for because the ultimate goal is to provide happiness to the family and minimize complications from the pregnancy.
In 2021, India banned commercial surrogacy by passing the Surrogacy Regulation Act. The act was passed to promote altruistic surrogacy and cited ethical issues with Assisted Reproductive Technology (ARTs) techniques as justification for the passing of the legislation. However, this had disastrous ramifications on a grassroots level for mothers who depended on surrogacy to support themselves. The pandemic further amplified the effects of this ban because mothers who were put out of jobs such as domestic work were beginning to turn to surrogacy as a way out of their destitute state.
Mothers such as Pinky Mecwan, who was earning $94 a month as a supervisor in a garment factory but got laid off due to the pandemic, was slated to earn $6,230 in total for a surrogacy. Because hospitals take care of living costs, she was able to save the money and put it towards her son’s education and future expenses. Nationwide bans on commercial surrogacy have broad implications for the nation’s most vulnerable. Although politicians and lawmakers can discuss the ethical nuances of the practice and whether it is “ethically sound,” they fail to understand the consequences of their decision-making and the livelihoods at risk when such policies are implemented.