Acton Institute Powerblog

India Is To Surrogacy As Detroit Was To Cars

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That’s the conclusion Wesley J. Smith, J.D., Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute, has come to. The surrogacy business in India is booming. While statistics are hard to come by, according to one estimate, .  That does not translate to much money for the surrogate mothers, however. Women are paid about $8,000 for their medical expenses and having a baby. However, since it is typically poor women, many of whom are illiterate, that are targeted for surrogacy, many sign contracts they do not understand. India has few laws governing surrogacy, so the women have little or no rights. It is a situation ripe for abuse.

While many view the Indian surrogacy business as a “win-win,” Smith says it clearly is not.

Surrogacy degrades a pregnancy to a service and a baby to a product. Experience shows that like any other commercial dealing the customer lays down his/her conditions before purchasing the goods. The surrogate may be forced to terminate the pregnancy if so desired by the contracting couple and she will not be able to terminate it if it is against the desire of the couple. She has difficulty in keeping her own baby. There have been instances where the contracting individual has specified the sex of the baby as well, refused to take the baby if it is not normal, and filed a suite against the surrogate saying she had broken the contract.

Smith also argues that surrogacy – because it involves the sale and transaction of a human being – is not a “typical” business deal. There are ethical issues at stake, not the least of which is taking advantage of undereducated, poor women. The surrogate’s health is generally only a concern in that she can produce a healthy child; Smith calls this “gestational serfdom.”

Even more harrowing is the idea that anyone can buy a baby this way – even pedophiles. In Israel, a convicted sex offender was able to purchase a baby via surrogacy. Also, lest you think that surrogacy is only for those who are infertile, it’s also becoming popular for those who don’t want to be pregnant, even for reasons of vanity: “some women who opt for surrogacy face no biological barrier; they say they’re too busy to be pregnant, or don’t want to lose their figures.”  One doctor puts it this way:

These are women who know that they are able to carry the pregnancy themselves, but who decide for social reasons not to get pregnant themselves , but to use a surrogate instead. They have a wide variety of reasons for choosing this route. Some are very busy and successful career women, who don’t want to take a break in their professional career , as this will harm their chances of becoming the CEO. Others are models who don’t want their figure to altered as a result of pregnancy. Some feel it’s just too stressful for them to go through pregnancy , and if they don’t need to do it themselves , and can get someone else to carry a baby for them, then why shouldn’t they use this option ?

This type of entitlement mentality, along with the casual attitude of using another person as a piece of equipment rather than a human being, makes surrogacy an act of degradation, not of life. Even if all parties are willing, the business of surrogacy remains immoral.

Elise Hilton Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.


  • World of Surrogacy

    This article is so hostile and troubling. Frankly who cares what Wesley J. Smith has to say about woman’s rights issues. He clearly never suffered from fertility issues nor needed a surrogate to carry for him. Almost all of my clients have health reasons why they cannot carry or have had cancer. Personally, it is tiring hearing from men what is good for woman. Why is their never any issue nor does legislation need to be passed when men get a vasectomy?

    • Elise Hilton

      I concur that it is troubling. However, no one has the right to have a child; children are gifts from God. Using another person as a “baby-making machine” and taking advantage of poor, illiterate women is untenable. This is not a “woman’s rights issue.” This is a human rights issue. Why is it okay to decry the horrid sweatshop conditions of workers in Bangladesh, but off-limits to talk about women being used in a way that takes advantage of their health, poverty and lack of education?

      Smith may be male, but I am not. Surrogacy is not good for anyone, most certainly the woman acting as surrogate.

      • World of Surrogacy

        I am not sure who anointed you judge and jury. We all have rights. I don’t believe that a higher power came down and directed you to speak on his/her behalf or for women in general. These questions should be directed to the woman who decide to become surrogates. I can tell you personally that 99 percent if the surrogates state that they would become a surrogate again to feed and clothe their families.
        I travel to these places frequently and I am immersed in the culture. If we lived in an ideal world people would not have to become surrogates if Greed from the well healed were not the established power.

        • Elise Hilton

          Apparently, we all have rights, but I don’t have a right to an opinion?

          By the way, you didn’t answer my question, so I shall pose it again: Why is it okay to decry the horrid sweatshop conditions of workers in Bangladesh, but off-limits to talk about women being used in a way that takes advantage of their health, poverty and lack of education?

          • World of Surrogacy

            Why is it okay for Black Africans to work in horrible mines so that the wealthy can wear diamonds? We can go round and round on this subject. Why is it okay for people in China to be exploited on the assembly line producing Apple computers? Because people need a paycheck and it is what the world at large is buying. I cannot solve the woulds problems nor can you. We are all exploited in some form or fashion. All one has to do us look at the disparity between Wall Street and rank and file Americans. Why do White women I’m the USA make more then Black women for the same job.
            This is the reality that we live in!

          • Elise Hilton

            So, basically, your answer is that since exploitation exists, we must participate in it? You are not willing to do even the slightest thing to lessen the problem, since it basically won’t make any difference, right? *Shrug*, that’s just the world we live in *sigh*.

            Why not put your time, energy and knowledge of these cultures to help these women develop marketable skills that will allow them to support themselves and their families in non-exploitative ways? We CAN solve the world’s problems; that’s what we as human beings are supposed to do!

            And by the way, babies (along with all other human beings) should not be bought and sold like diamonds and iPhones.

          • World of Surrogacy

            Since you do not know me nor I you, I can tell you that I already have a foundation that helps the children of surrogates in India. We can all do our part whatever small way to address global concerns. What you may think is a global concern may not be what I feel is a global concern and we both have a right to our thoughts. But this is what I know is true, no human being is judge and juror over another’s actions.
            You have absolutely NO, right to judge another women if she chooses to become a surrogate. It is none of your business. If you are opposed to surrogacy then don’t become a surrogate!

          • Elise Hilton

            If we have no right to judge others’ actions, then why are there laws? Why are there courts?

            The argument of “If you are opposed to surrogacy then don’t become a surrogate” is specious. What if I were to say, “If you don’t like child abuse, don’t abuse a child”, or “If you don’t like murder, don’t commit one”? The fact is, poor women ARE being exploited because they live in situations where they have so few choices. If we work to help lift them out of poverty in a dignified way, then the exploitation ceases.

            If I run a diamond mine, and I utilize children as laborers, paying them a pittance, but I say “Hey, they are choosing to work here, so it’s nobody’s business”, am I morally “off the hook”? Am I not guilty of exploitation?

            And indeed, it IS my business what happens to these women. Whether you call it karma, being the keeper of one’s brother or sister, or treating others as you wish to be treated, we all bear responsibility as to how others are treated.

          • World of Surrogacy

            Please spare us all if the rhetoric. I am not sure if you are looking for sainthood or what right wing kook-aid you are asking us to drink. Paternalism at it’s best.

          • Elise Hilton

            How is it “paternalistic” to care about another human being who is being exploited and has no voice?

            What IS the difference between paying to rent the womb of a poverty-stricken woman and paying slave wages to diamond-miners?

          • Elise Hilton
          • billium101

            Do you even realize how much the average woman discussed in this article receive from programs like these, relative to what she might earn for her family by being a surrogate? I’d love to see how you might fare in similar conditions. When your family does not have food and then you can hold your breath while waiting for donations.

          • Elise Hilton

            First of all, I’d appreciate it if you would not wish ill upon me or my family simply because you have differing opinions. That is, frankly, mean.

            Yes, I am aware of the dire circumstances these women and their families live in. No one should have to live this way. However, exploitation is not the answer. And surrogacy does nothing to address the poverty of the entire region or country; it merely is a stop-gap for one family. In order to truly address the issue, we must think more broadly and more humanely in order to educate, create opportunities and stop the spread of exploitative practices.

          • Jessica Kern

            What is the name of your foundation that helps children of surrogates? And what specifically do they do?

          • Jessica Kern

            “You have absolutely NO, right to judge another women if she chooses to
            become a surrogate. It is none of your business. If you are opposed to
            surrogacy then don’t become a surrogate!” When you say this you’re forgetting the most important person in the equation the child, the product of surrogacy. (I am one)

  • Megan Sainsbury

    Elise, you have the right to an opinion but it would be better if you got your facts correct first. Surrogates are not paid around $8000 for their medical expenses, the medical expenses are paid separately and the $8000 you mention does not include expenses, it is their compensation, and that compensation varies from clinic to clinic, higher and lower.

    Before you get on your high horse and judge those of us who have our babies through surrogacy in India, why don’t you actually go over there and meet a few surrogates, see what they think and feel, see why they agree to be surrogates. The two remarkable women who carried my babies laughed at the suggestion they had been forced into it, they both felt sorry for me not being able to carry my own babies, they wanted to help, they also wanted payment which was fine by me. Pregnancy to them was an easy thing they can do for me. Neither understood why people would say they were exploited or impoverished.

    If I could do the same for another woman, I would.

    Your comment about buying babies is just plain wrong, we are buying services same as anyone doing IVF – the idea of buying babies make it sounds as if these babies were sitting on a shelf pre-made and ready to purchased at whim. There is a love of thought, love and desire that goes into this process. It is not as easy as you make it sound, like going to a shop for a loaf of bread.

    • Jessica Kern

      To be honest, what’s being bought isn’t the egg. What’s being bought is at the end of day a baby in your home. You can’t donate your kidney or liver for money, the reason behind that is that it’s considered due to the influence of money (a sum large enough to improve a quality of life) one would not keep their health as a first priority. For the surrogates and egg donors in this industry particularly when they are gestational carriers and egg donors the huge amounts of horomones that they take to ready their body hasn’t been studied or approved by the FDA for that use. the only reason agencies can tell women that there is little risk is that they don’t do the studies. Why would they? It would hurt their bottom line of profit.

      Would you be surprised to know that many of us who are donor conceived do consider this as a form of human trafficking. No one has the right to buy another person.

  • Today in India and in Mumbai alone we have several third
    party reproduction service agency. It becomes difficult for intended parents
    far away from Mumbai to check the authenticity and functioning of these
    agencies. Many couples decide to come down and meet the agency in person so
    that they can gauge if they are authentic and good enough for them. Many others
    go on recommendation.

  • surrogacy clinic India

    The best precious gift in this world is to be parents. Spreading happiness through surrogacy is a good thought.

    • Counterculturalist

      You treat it like a buisness and a product, rather than a ‘gift’. Stop selling babies.

  • Hello, Frances. We prefer not to stoop to name-calling here, but I wanted to comment. First, I do have “a clue” (or two) about infertility and adoption, since I have suffered infertility and my husband and I ultimately adopted. While infertility is a horrid struggle, it isn’t the worst thing in the world. I think it is far worse to use a desperate human being as an “incubator” to satisfy your desire to have a child. There are about a quarter of a million children in foster care in the US who are awaiting adoption. No one “needs” a surrogate. However, many children – here and abroad – need homes.

    I hope my children never suffer infertility either. But if they do, I’ll remind them of the great love of adoption, and that we never, ever have the “right” to a child, nor do we have the right to use another being as a means to an ends. I don’t begrudge anyone the joy of having a child, but I do not believe we should enslave another human being to achieve this.

    If you choose to comment further, our editorial policy is that we don’t publish comments that are personal attacks, or use name-calling. Keep it civil, Frances.

  • Jessica Kern

    Wow, extremely unkind. I am a product of surrogacy. I can tell you first hand I appreciate authors who will write about this. This industry is about profit, and meeting adults desires, and ignoring and refusing to look at whether or not this is in the best interest of children being created. (bought and sold through these technologies.) (If that wasn’t the case why don’t any places require home studies before this can take place. Like a traditional adoption would) There’s no consideration to the fact that the child will be intentionally split up from one or both genetic parents with no rights to their birth information. Look up some donor conception blogs and you’ll see that there’s a voice out there from the people created via this technology that are saying this is Not ok.