On March 5 the Senate Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs held a roundtable on surrogacy. Myf Cummerford was conceived in 1980 using an anonymous sperm donor, part of the AI program at the Royal Woman’s Hospital. She wants the committee to consider the experience of herself and thousands like her.
I’m a donor conceived person and a mother.
The sperm used to conceive me was sold for $20 in 1977. My parents didn’t just bring me home from the hospital, they bought me from the hospital.
While it might make us feel better to pay Australian women for their wombs and reproductive capacity instead of disadvantaged women overseas, it is no less exploitative. The only difference will be that the economic, social and psychological circumstances that lead an Australian woman to offer herself to the surrogacy market will be much less visible.
We are not paying a woman for her time and inconvenience. We are paying her first and foremost for the child; the risk that she undertakes and the effects on her physical and mental health are secondary issues.
There is a good reason prostitutes don’t have sex with strangers for free. And there is a good reason few women are prepared to be altruistic surrogates.
Compensation acts as the primary incentive for the woman to engage in providing a product for the consumer, however the true price of that product can never be paid or valued in monetary terms. The long term, omnipresent (often quiet and unacknowledged) subsequent loss incurred is borne not only by the woman but her existing family and ultimately the innocent child she delivers.
Why are we rewarding the people who choose to break the current domestic law by exploring permitting and regulating commercial surrogacy here?
If the only real answer to that question is because people are going to do it anyway then we should also legalise human trafficking, slavery, child prostitution and all the other practices that commodify human beings and their bodies. No one is going to die because they don’t get the baby they want, but someone might if they do, indeed they already have.
It’s entirely possible that by opening up a commercial surrogacy market here the overseas market will respond by cutting the cost of using a surrogate there. Which will do nothing to stop people using “cheap” surrogates and only make it even worse for those women (and their families). Let alone what that would mean for the child created.
We should not be sanitising this practice, we should be sanctioning it. I’m sure the exponents of commercial surrogacy attending the roundtable (Committee’s report and transcripts) discussion today will make a florid, superficially reasonable case for permitting commercial surrogacy in Australia. I sincerely hope you don’t listen to them.
Myf’s bio: In 2001 after being told of my DC status I searched for my donor and was ultimately successful in meeting him (and establishing an ongoing relationship) thanks to an article in The Australian newspaper. I have been actively involved in advocacy in this area for 14 years, primarily for the people created via these practices but also donors, surrogates and parents because their interests are also being exploited. I’m an atheist, feminist, democratic socialist, human rights and equality supporting realist who is just yet to hear an argument convincing me any of this is a good idea.
The 2015 National Conference for Donor Conceived People will be held in Melbourne June 27. More details.
Stop Surrogacy Before it’s too late: Surrogacy doesn’t liberate us from biological constraints – it turns women’s bodies into factories.
What do Elton John, Sarah Jessica Parker, Ricky Martin and Nicole Kidman have in common? The answer — happily reported by celebrity site Glamour Magazine — is that all had babies with the help of surrogate mothers. And these stories are invariably accompanied by photos of the couples holding their babies and beaming with joy. Well, if you asked me, I ‘d answer rather differently — they are all participating in reproductive prostitution and child trafficking.
Surrogacy — or ‘contract pregnancy’ — involves a woman being either inseminated or having an embryo implanted in her uterus. When she gives birth nine months later, she surrenders the child to the commissioning parents — and almost always in exchange for money. Since the 1970s, over 25,000 babies have been born in the USA via surrogacy. But the practice is increasingly outsourced to countries like India, Ukraine, Thailand and Mexico. In India alone, the surrogacy industry is valued at over 450 million USD per year. Countries all over the world are faced with the question: ban or regulate surrogacy?
(Illustration by Daniel Gray)
The media mostly portrays surrogacy as a win-win situation: childless couples can fulfil their dream for a child, and poor women can earn money by helping others. Hello! magazine showcases Elton John saying that surrogacy “completes our family in the most precious and perfect way.” Vanity Fair features Ricky Martin and his twins, declaring: “I would give my life for the woman who helped me bring my sons into this world.” And Nicole Kidman comments: “Our family is truly blessed … No words can adequately convey the incredible gratitude that we feel for everyone … in particular our gestational carrier.” Martin and Kidman conspicuously avoid the word ‘mother’ when speaking about the women who bore children for them. The gratitude of the recipients of the surrogacy arrangements is paraded as success, but ultimately disguises the inherent power inequity in the arrangement: the parent is the one who pays, not the one who bears the child. Read more
Reject commercial surrogacy as another form of human trafficking
The practice of reproductive surrogacy is in the news in Australia because of the story of a Thai child, Gammy, a twin who was apparently abandoned by the buyers because he was sick. They took his healthy sister.
This story should not be seen as just an individual bad news story. It has much to tell us about the effects of commercial surrogacy. This industry is an offshoot of the very profitable reproductive technology industry, which created, through IVF, the possibility of persons buying children in the marketplace.
The result is that children can be rejected, left over or abandoned like the sofa that buyers decided was in the end not the right colour. Children have become goods to be traded.
Discussion of surrogacy usually revolves around the rights of the buyers and how the industry can be better regulated. The debate should be about whether such a harmful industry should be permitted at all. Read more
Baby Gammy has shown the need for debate on surrogacy
Dr Renate Klein
As the fallout from baby Gammy continues and Thailand moves to make commercial surrogacy illegal, calls are intensifying for Australia to legalise paid surrogacy with a ‘carefully designed system’ as columnist Julie Szego proposed on these pages last week.
As a critic of the IVF industry for three decades, my solution is very different. Rather than regulating a system that commodifies the resulting child and invariably uses women as “containers” for carrying and birthing a baby they are taught to say is not theirs, we need to focus on the demand for surrogacy and try to reduce it.
How is it that there are 100 or more couples who are now in understandable despair because they don’t know what’s happening to the Thai women carrying “their” babies, or to their frozen embryos in clinics that have been closed down? Who is facilitating couples – gay and straight – who are intent on their own genetic child and have the money to pay going baby shopping overseas? Read more
Dr Renate Klein is a feminist health researcher. She was Associate Professor in Women’s Studies at Deakin University until 2006.
Adelaide couple Mark and Matt, both 29, have acquired Thai-designed newborns Tate and Estelle through commercialised surrogacy overseas. According to Adelaide’s Sunday Mail, the dual boy-girl delivery an hour apart by caesarean section to separate surrogate women for gay parents is believed to be an Australian first.
These babies have a complex genealogical history.
They were conceived from eggs extracted from a single Caucasian donor woman (country not identified), separately fertilised with the men’s sperm, then implanted into two Thai women who acted as surrogate mothers.
Commercial surrogacy is illegal in Australia, and adoption by gay people not allowed in South Australia. The men spent $80,000 to obtain the children.
I’m not about to make a case that Mark and Matt won’t love the children or provide good homes for them. And it’s not just gay men engaging in reproductive tourism in developing countries – an estimated 500 couples a year are doing it, with figures showing a tripling in three years.
What most concerns me is the complete erasure of the mother in these acts of global womb renting by wealthy Westerners. This latest case highlights this mother disappearance.
There is no mother in the story. A graph shows the men as ”Biological Fathers”, the women as ”Surrogate 1” and ”Surrogate 2”. Elsewhere they are ”women”, not ”mothers”.
The birth mothers won’t ever be contacted or shared in photos, even though it was their voices the babies heard and responded to in-utero, their bodies who nourished and sustained them and prepared for their arrival. Read more.
WHEN Lauren Burns listened to the Prime Minister’s national apology to those who suffered forcible adoption, she wanted to ask: what about me? It wasn’t that the 29-year-old Melbourne woman didn’t find the speech moving. She believes the mothers and children so cruelly separated deserved the apology.
But she, and so many like her, felt left out. Lauren is one of thousands of children (exact figures are not known — in the beginning records weren’t kept) born as the result of donor sperm or eggs, who believe they too have been denied an opportunity to know their biological parents.
It was these words which most affected her: ‘‘To each of you who were . . . denied the opportunity to grow up with your family and community of origin, we say sorry. We acknowledge that many of you still experience a constant struggle with identity, uncertainty and loss and feel a persistent tension between loyalty to one family and yearning for another.’’
‘‘I found it incredible that the Government was apologising to adopted people for the very things that are still happening via donor conception and surrogacy,’’ Lauren says. ‘‘It was frustrating that almost nobody except us could see that by simply inserting ‘donor conception’ for ‘adoption’, the PM could have been speaking to us. She promised no generation of Australians would suffer the same pain and trauma they did. But it’s not true.’’
Many donor-conceived children feel they are treated as inferior citizens, especially when secrets continue to be legally protected. There are no uniform regulations in Australia. In Victoria you’re guaranteed access to your donor’s identity only if you were born after 1998. Those born from 1988 to 1998 get access only if the donor consents. The rest have little hope. All they can do is put their names on a voluntary register and hope their donor does too.
Melbourne father Ross, 35, (surname withheld by request) describes an ‘‘enduring yearning’’ to know his genetic father.
‘‘I know how tall he was, his eye and hair colour, complexion and blood type. A pretty lousy list when you consider what a father has the potential to be. But at the moment, it’s all I have,’’ he says.
Some think that’s enough. Dr Doug Keeping of the Queensland Fertility Group says: ‘‘The code of secrecy has worked well for 25 years. Why spoil it for fairly theoretical reasons?’’
Donor offspring don’t think their reasons for wanting to know their biological parents are theoretical.
Lauren says: ‘‘There is a commonly held belief that since we were so wanted by our social parents, our biological kinship links shouldn’t matter. But there is still a loss experienced from not knowing biological family and not being able to trace where your looks, personality or interests come from.’’
Ross describes the battle of the donor conception community against the profitable reproductive technology industry as being like an ‘‘anchovy against a whale’’.
Lauren says she knows of a donor-conceived man who felt so much like a product he had a bar code tattooed on the back of his neck. And how is someone conceived from an egg donated in Eastern Europe, sperm donated in the US and born to an Indian surrogate mother supposed to find all the people involved in creating them?
Lauren found her father three years ago after a five year search. Holders of her records refused to hand them over because of legal advice. With the intervention of the then Victorian Governor, David de Kretser, (her mother’s treating doctor), her donor was found. While Lauren still has time to develop the relationship, a friend had merely four weeks.
Lauren and other donor-conceived offspring are grieving the loss of Melbourne social worker Narelle Grech, who died this week of cancer, aged 30. An advocate for retrospective rights to information about their biological identity, she was denied information about her biological father, Ray Tonna, for whom she searched for 15 years. But because she was dying, former Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu intervened and her father was found. Tonna and son Zac found and lost a daughter and sister in the space of a month.
The co-ordinator of the Donor Conception Support Group, Caroline Lorbach, says she is sad and angry the system made Grech fight for information which should have been hers.
The group is waiting for Victoria’s response to the Parliamentary Law Reform Committee 2012 report’s recommendation that all donor-conceived people know the name of their donor, no matter when they were born.
‘‘I hope the Government decides it needs to open up all the records so that no one else has to go through what Narelle did,’’ Lorbach says. If we acknowledge the pain of those forcibly removed from parents, then the pain of these children must be acknowledged also.
Published in the Sunday Herald Sun March 31, 2013
Call for Victorian Government to ensure equality for donor conceived children: Change petition
Melbourne woman Myf Cummerford has created a Change petition calling on the Victorian Government to protect the interests of donor conceived children.
“The welfare and interests of persons born or to be born as a result of treatment procedures are paramount”.
This is the first guiding principle of the Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Act 2008 the legislation governing ART practices (including Donor Conception) in Victoria.
Donor conception is conception using donated gametes (sperms and eggs) or embryos.
There are likely several thousands of donor-conceived people who were conceived in Victoria prior to 1988, and more than 5500 have been born since then. Many of these people will be unaware that they are donor-conceived.
• People who were conceived from gametes donated in Victoria after 1998 are entitled under legislation to obtain identifying information about their donors when they reach adulthood.
• People conceived from gametes donated between 1988 and 1997 can only access identifying information about their donors with the donor’s consent.
• However, people conceived from gametes donated prior to 1988 have no legislated right to obtain identifying information.
This means that if you are donor conceived, your ability to access vital information about your genetic parentage and identity entirely depends on the date the gametes used to conceive you were donated. This has created a complex and confusing situation of differing rights and abilities with many serious implications. Read full petition wording here
Cold term cannot disappear central experience of pregnancy and birth
Gestational carrier is an ugly term
THE objectification of women’s bodies and commodification of childbirth came together yesterday in a single antiseptic phrase contained in the announcement of a second child for actress Nicole Kidman and her musician husband Keith Urban.
The baby’s birth three weeks ago took even dedicated “Our Nic” watchers by surprise, including Woman’s Day which had the couple adopting a Haitian child.
“Our family is truly blessed . . . to have been given the gift of baby Faith Margaret. No words can adequately convey the incredible gratitude that we feel for everyone who was so supportive throughout this process, in particular our gestational carrier.”
In those last two words, the woman whose body nurtured this child for nine months is stripped of humanity. The phrase is reminiscent of other terms popular in the global baby-production industry, such as suitcase, baby capsule, oven and incubator.
The detached language views women as disposable uteruses. This dismantling of motherhood denies the psychological and physiological bonds at the heart of pregnancy.
The euphemisms soothe: don’t worry, there is no mother whose voice the baby hears, no mother whose blood carries nutrients to the developing child, whose heart the child hears. No mother feeling first kicks, whose breasts swell, whose entire body and mind prepare for her arrival.
US ethicist Wesley Smith said he was reminded of “Dune’s ‘axlotl tanks’, which are women who are lobotomised and then their bodies used as gestational carriers for clones.”
But doctors prefer it.
On Australia Talks Back, November 9, 2009, Canberra IVF specialist Martyn Stafford-Bell said “gestational carrier pregnancy” was the preferred term.
Surrogacy was a good solution for women “unable to house a pregnancy” and a woman carrying a child with no genetic connection understood “she is, in fact, an incubator”. Some surrogate mothers use these terms to distance, because surrogacy erodes the inherent maternal-fetal relationship.
“I am strictly a hotel,” one said.
Donna Hill, who experienced a toxemic pregnancy followed by a traumatic induced labour which she hoped to forget, said, “I told myself I was just an incubator. I was just going into an operation and not giving birth.”
Sydney surrogate mother Shona Ryan told a Canberra conference: “I had to forget I was pregnant. There was not the same joy and wonderment. In some ways I felt sorry for this baby that it didn’t receive the same attention [as my others]. I had to deny the pleasures of pregnancy.”
After the birth: “My subconscious, my body, my emotions, knew I’d given birth and were screaming out for that baby. I kept having the urge to tell people, ‘I’ve had a baby!’
“The personal cost to me and my family [was too high]. I came to the conclusion I couldn’t recommend surrogacy to anyone.”
Of course the birth of any baby is worthy of celebration. But that doesn’t mean we should avoid hard questions about the fragmentation of motherhood, about a child who may wonder about their birth mother and why she is not raising them.
We can’t keep our Eyes Wide Shut about the exploitation of women in countries such as India where a booming surrogacy industry, described as womb slavery, attracts rich foreigners. And questions need to be asked more broadly about the global trade in the use of gametes in a range of reproductive procedures.
The Daily Mail recently ran “The brutal fertility factories trading in British mothers’ dreams” to describe vulnerable women trading in the only valuable thing they possessed: their fertility.
In the US commodification of a child knows few limits. Journalist Bill Wyndham, pretending to be a single, HIV-positive gay man, was told by a surrogacy company he’d make a perfect dad.
He was, however, not allowed to adopt a puppy from the dog pound.
We don’t know the background of the surrogate mother. Was she a student trying to pay off college loans? Had she given birth for other couples? Did she have the option of changing her mind? Will there be any future contact between the mother and child? Does she have other children who are asking where the new baby went?
Some women have been unable to relinquish. Mary Beth Whitehead, US surrogate mother in the famous Baby M case, said: “Something took over. I think it was just being a mother.”
Jane Smith from Sydney said of the son she carried: “I couldn’t let him go.”
Another surrogate mother has said: “In the beginning it is easy to see things in an unrealistic way. When there is no real baby, it is easy to be idealistic.”
In 1997 a baby called “Evelyn” became Australia’s first litigated surrogacy case when her surrogate mother couldn’t give her up.
The raft of celebrities hiring out surrogates to have babies for them has became almost a modern day form of wet nursing.
But the lack of objective evidence about the long-term impact of surrogacy on the surrogate mothers, the children and the families of the commissioning parents is concerning.
The process of pregnancy, labour and delivery followed by summoning extraordinary reserves of strength to surrender that baby, cannot be reduced to the science fiction that the woman who does all this is merely a “gestational carrier”.
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