By Erika Klein
Surrogacy business in the United States has exploded and expanded in the last five years according to several news reports and documentaries. The United States is one of the few countries in the world that has zero regulation on surrogacy; state laws vary from banning it outright to legalizing it completely. Companies brokering surrogacy are earning multi-million dollar profits while at the same time duping infertile couples and exploiting vulnerable women who carry the babies. And now, thanks to the internet, more and more surrogacy scams are occurring in rapid numbers.
It's a legal and ethical quagmire. Class action lawsuits have been launched by parents against surrogacy agencies - they are demanding justice and compensation for the thousands of dollars that have been stolen from them. Surrogacy is essentially the renting out of a woman's womb, where the embryos belong to the parents or donors and the surrogate is paid a fee to bring the baby to term. Infertile couples prefer this route over adoption because the child would be genetically theirs. It also means that the surrogate has no legal standing as the child's mother. Surrogacy is sold as a win-win scenario. But, due to a lack of governmental regulation, it is clear that surrogacy is rife with problems. America has now become a haven for these types of businesses -selling women's wombs to desperate couples has become a lucrative market place.
What's even more disturbing about surrogacy is that it is primarily wealthy and middle class people renting out the wombs of lower income and poor women. It is likened to breeding, albeit performed in a laboratory through in vitro fertilization. Women from all over the world are participating. They participate because they have children of their own to support and often live in substandard, impoverished conditions. With the money earned from a surrogacy, they are able to fix their houses, buy food and even send their children to school. It is another dark chapter in our world's history where the affluent West is using the rest of the world to bare their children.
Celebrities like Sarah Jessica Parker & Mathew Broderick used surrogacy in order to expand their family. It sends a broader message to the wider world, that if you have money, you can essentially rent someone's womb out and have a child. But what happens when the surrogacy agency takes off with the money that was supposed to be in a secure trust fund?
A recent PBS investigative documentary revealed several potential couples and surrogates were left in a lurch by an agency that was offering services in several states. When they inquired with the FBI they were told they were investigating but had yet to lay a charge because federal law did not set out a specific crime. One class action law suit has been initiated by the would be parents and another law suit has been brought on by health insurance companies for fraud. Both consumers and insurance companies are utilizing civil courts because the laws remain complicated and unclear. The reason legislators hesitate to make law on these issues goes back to Roe vs. Wade. The embryos are considered property and aren't considered human life until after birth. So what kind of laws and regulations should be enacted? It is a strange combination of family law and consumer protection laws which make it entirely messy on all sides. No one wants to open the debate because abortion is still a controversial issue in America.
Proper governmental regulation would safeguard all those involved. Surrogacy brokerage agencies are not required to have any form of certification and virtually anyone with a computer and bank account can start their own surrogacy business. America has literally become the breeding ground - the business of selling babies and renting out wombs is booming. It's time for the American federal government to step in and create clear rules, laws and consumer protection. At the moment, there are more laws for purchasing a used car than for adoption or surrogacy. As long as the demand for infants continues and as long as there are infertile couples desperate to have a family, there will be more coercion, fraud and scams. Protecting all parties involved is imperative.
And what of the surrogate mothers? Some are duped by agencies after becoming pregnant and left to deal directly with the receiving couples. The monies that are supposed to be held in trust to cover the cost of health insurance and payment for the service are often just placed in another account accessible to the company owners. When the time to cover the costs arrives, companies have cashed in on the funds and closed their doors. These vulnerable woman cannot cover basic needs such as pre-natal care and health care costs. Such cases end up placing the lives of the mothers and their children in serious jeopardy.
Some women on the surrogacy end have to pay for their own costs, which can often be a serious financial hardship to women who are already struggling in poverty. What was once thought as a way to make extra money and help out a couple hoping for a child turns into a nightmare leaving surrogates in a much worse position than ever before. And no one has dared discuss the complicated emotional repurcussions of carrying a child to term and then giving it away, or the emotional impact on the children of surrogate pregnancies.
There is something eerily strange about the buying and selling of eggs, embryos and renting of wombs. While for many people this is the answer to a long awaited dream, for the rest of the world it is causing more harm than good. Surrogacy is based on capitalistic principles and adheres to supply and demand. We can and should enforce laws and regulations that make it ethical, safe and a more humane process for all. Exploitation should have no place in the creation of families.