Surrogacy: Gift of life or exploitation?

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Does surrogacy reduce women to breeders and children to objects that can be exchanged? Some people are calling for commercial surrogacy to be banned.

The recent case of baby Gammy has exposed the complexities of the overseas commercial surrogacy trade.

As a West Australian couple stands accused by their Thai surrogate of allegedly abandoning a twin boy born with Down syndrome, one Swedish journalist has warned of the surrogacy trade's potential for human trafficking and exploitation.

Kajsa Ekis Ekman, Insight guest and recent Festival of Dangerous Ideas panellist, says surrogacy is against women's fundamental rights and has likened it to prostitution.

"I’ve studied surrogacy since 2008, and I take a stand against all forms of surrogacy. If we don’t stop this industry now it’s going to grow as big as the prostitution industry and we’re going to have more cases like the baby Gammy case," Ekman said.  

"We have to remember that the cases of that we’ve been hearing about here [on the show] are predominantly altruistic surrogacy which is exceptional on the global level.  Most of surrogacy is commercial. Instead of you know being sex for sale, it’s reproductive prostitution where basically women are turned into breeders and when children are bought and sold."

In the weeks since Gammy's story was made public, opinion has been divided. Some have called for a rethink of Australia's surrogacy laws, while others are less supportive.  

Peter Reith, former senior cabinet minister, also weighed in: "The reality is, that if Australia does not reform existing barriers, costs and bans on surrogacy, then desperate Australians, mainly young couples, will be forced to consider other countries such as Georgia or Mexico."

Columnist Suzanne Moore is more critical and says the practice devalues life: "Poor women will rent their wombs to richer, infertile couples. This is global capitalism in action. Trading wombs and babies on the free market devalues women."

No matter where you stand on this issue, one Sydney couple is grateful for the ultimate sacrifice given by their surrogate.

Sibling surrogate

Amy Day and her husband Anatole are proud parents to three-month-old daughter Roxy. Day's younger sister, Alex Miller, is Roxy's surrogate.

When Day was 15 years old, she discovered she was born without a womb. At the time, her teenage sister offered to carry a child for her when the time was right.

"I just didn’t feel like it was fair that Amy would have to miss out if I could give her that opportunity … so it was sort of just a promise that I kept," Miller explained.

Miller said she had "never fully disclosed" the sibling agreement to her husband when they got married, but fortunately he was very accepting.

Before the surrogacy went ahead, the couples – Amy and her husband Anatol, and Alex and her husband – all underwent counselling and received legal advice.

They talked about whether abortion was an option either party wanted if the baby tested positively for Down syndrome. They discussed the birthing arrangement to make sure it suited all parties, as well as a plan should they die before the baby was born as her sister wasn't able to keep the baby.

IVF specialist Professor Gavin Sacks was right there from the beginning – collecting the eggs and right through to the delivery. He described the process as "beautiful all the way through".

"I think a baby is so much more than a a cell or a bunch of DNA … There may be different views, but I definitely feel that the surrogate is more than just a carrier."

"I’ve seen thousands of births, but this was a very special one, and I think because the journey was so complex and there were so many people involved, and I think we all really tried to take account of everyone’s feelings.  And I think that created a very special feeling, for me as much as them," Sacks said.

"I just love her so much for doing this"

For Miller, she told Insight that being a surrogate has changed her view about commercial surrogacy and said she can't imagine ever doing it for a complete stranger.

"Until I actually was a surrogate, I didn't think there was anything wrong with commercial surrogacy but now I'm not very supportive of it. I mean maybe some women in Thailand and India [and] in poorer countries are choosing freely, I do not think it's worth the risk of any woman being forced in that position to do it … I guess I'm still struggling with that but I just think altruistic surrogacy is the best way to go."

Reflecting on the experience, Miller said the most unexpected thing about being a surrogate was the sense of loss she felt after the birth, but believes her and her sister are all the "more closer for it".

"Although it was hard for me to let go, I mean I don’t resent Amy or anything.  I mean that was just, that’s just part of the emotions you experience after having a child … We have experienced something beyond words," Miller says.   

Day adds: "You couldn’t ask someone to do a greater thing for you.  I just think now we’re closer than ever, and I just love her so much for doing this and going through this journey.  I just think that that day was just the best day of my life."

Tonight Insight looks at how surrogacy arrangements in Australia are unfolding and how people are navigating the unexpected. Who calls the shots in surrogacy arrangements? And what pitfalls and hurdles are people facing? Join the conversation on Twitter using #insightsbs

Source Insight

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