Commercial surrogacy: a sign of the times?

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“We are looking for a surrogate mother who already has children and who would be happy to give birth,” says Joyce, who's not able to have children. On a special internet forum, she is hoping to find a surrogate mother.

The Netherlands is planning to relax the regulations for recognising children born to surrogate mothers from abroad. But opponents strongly disapprove of what they call “reproductive prostitution”.

Though things are about to change, finding a surrogate mother can prove difficult under Dutch law. At present surrogacy is only allowed if a family member is prepared to give birth on your behalf. In addition, the potential surrogate mother must already have children and not want any more children of her own. Paying someone to have a baby for you is out of the question.

Joyce cannot ask her sister, because she still wants to have children of her own. “That’s why I posted the message on the forum,” she explains.

She could go to India, where commercial surrogacy is permitted. Western couples can go to special clinics, where test tube conception is carried out and the fertilised eggs are implanted in the wombs of Indian mothers. The price is 10,000 US dollars. Half of this money goes to the surrogate mothers, who use the money to pay for their own children’s education, or to buy a house.

Over the border
Dutch Deputy Justice Minister Fred Teeven is very much aware that more and more women are looking for surrogate mothers over the border, and are willing to pay them. He wants to change the rules so that, as long as certain criteria are met, these new-born babies can be officially recognised in the Netherlands.
The criteria are that the child must have been conceived using an egg or sperm cells obtained from the parents themselves and that the identity of the surrogate mother must be known. This means surrogate mothers from abroad will soon be allowed to give birth to a child on behalf of Dutch parents as part of a commercial operation, even though this remains illegal in the Netherlands.
René Hoksbergen, an Emeritus Professor on Adoption, is against the plan.
“There are good reasons why this practice is banned in the Netherlands. Your starting point has to be the position of the child, and such a process cannot result in a happy child. They will end up having unsettling questions about who they are: 'I emerged from an Indian womb and the Indian woman who bore me was a poor person who was given 1,000 dollars for her trouble. I was bought and sold.’ It’s ridiculous that laws are being amended to make this possible.”
Professor Hoksbergen goes a step further in his criticism.
“Commercial surrogacy amounts to reproductive prostitution. You make use of the bodily functions of another person to fulfil your own needs. That’s what happens in prostitution. It has nothing to do with the interests of the child.”
He estimates that the commercial surrogacy industry in India already has a turnover of 1.7 billion euros.
Joyce sees the professor’s views as “a throwback to 1918. We have to move with the times. There are new technologies and possibilities. Hoksbergen has no idea what it’s like to want a child and not be able to have one.”
Indian doctor Nayna Patel, who has founded a fertility clinic in Ananda, also rejects Hoksbergen’s criticism. After all, both sides profit from the deal: the parents get a child and the money enables the surrogate mother to do things that would otherwise have been beyond her reach.
“If critics are able to come up with another idea that enables all these people to be happy, let them do it. If not, they have no right to make this kind of criticism.”
Joyce and her husband are considering their options. Adoption is not possible: although Joyce has been declared free of cancer, the fact that she has had the disease means she has little chance of adopting. Clinics in the United States also allow commercial surrogacy, though there the price can be as high as 100,000 dollars. “That might mean I have to sell my car,” Joyce laughs. “But it would be worth it.”
Joyce’s name has been changed to protect her privacy.