Womb for Rent

"I used to think of my body as an instrument, of pleasure, or a means of transportation, or an implement for the accomplishment of my will… Now the flesh arranges itself differently. I'm a cloud, congealed around a central object, the shape of a pear, which is hard and more real than I am and glows red within its translucent wrapping."—Offred considers her fate and function in The Handmaid's Tale.

* * *

Commercial surrogacy is the latest job being outsourced to India, as dozens of women just in the western city of Anand are currently carrying babies for couples from around the globe.

Commercial surrogacy has been legal in India since 2002, as it is in many other countries, including the United States. But India is the leader in making it a viable industry rather than a rare fertility treatment. Experts say it could take off for the same reasons outsourcing in other industries has been successful: a wide labor pool working for relatively low rates.

…"It raises the factor of baby farms in developing countries," said Dr. John Lantos of the Center for Practical Bioethics in Kansas City, Mo.
Gee, ya think?

Dr. Nayna Patel, who runs a clinic matching willing surrogates with infertile couples in Anand, to which young women are lining up to serve as surrogates, naturally defends her dubious matchmaking service by pointing out what a pragmatic solution it is to both infertility and poverty: "There is this one woman who desperately needs a baby and cannot have her own child without the help of a surrogate. And at the other end there is this woman who badly wants to help her (own) family. If this female wants to help the other one ... why not allow that? ... It's not for any bad cause. They're helping one another to have a new life in this world."

That makes it all sound pretty darn great, and it's hard to argue with the justification employed by the surrogates themselves, like Suman Dodia, "a pregnant, baby-faced 26-year-old" who will use the $4,500 she's paid to serve as a surrogate for a British couple to buy a house, having earned in nine months what it would have taken her 15 years to earn on her $25-a-month maid's salary. That's one hell of a money-making opportunity.

The question, as ever, is why that is the only/best opportunity for women to make a decent wage. It's deeply upsetting that the best opportunities for women, especially uneducated and/or poor women, inevitably involve selling their bodies to strangers. I'm truly a bit nauseous at the vaguely celebratory tone underlying this development, as well; it's evidently seen, in some way, as empowering, because women have graduated from selling their cunts to be used by paying men to selling their uteri to be used by paying couples. Huzzah. Three cheers for progress.

Inevitably, there will emerge a luxury class of surrogates—visit a "high class" hooker to have your fun; visit a "high class" surrogate to start your family—and as soon as it happens, the hard-working street surrogates of India will see their fees depressed, and, in a country with a tragically high maternal death rate, they'll be taking ever greater risks for ever less money. The ominous threat of baby farms will look like a naïve dream compared to the dirty, corrupt, dangerous baby factories that will be the inexorable result of unchecked, free-market commercial surrogacy. More huzzah. Three cheers for capitalism.

There's a train barreling down the tracks here, and I don't know what to do to stop it. All I can say is: This is bad. This is wrong. This should be discouraged. No good will come of it.

And there are those who will ask me how I can deny Suman Dodia her house, circumstances being what they are. I don't know what to say to that—except, again, why is this her only option? What are we doing to make sure her daughters have a real choice?

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