No one can argue that India is the outsourcing capital of the world. Unfortunately, the newest “service” to be outsourced raises some pretty prickly moral and ethical issues. The first time I heard about Indian women renting out their wombs as surrogate mothers to wealthy Western couples I thought it was some sort of sick joke…but a quick google search brought me more hits then I could count. India has figured out a way to turn surrogate mothering into an assembly line commodity.
Proponents of India’s womb for hire business argue that no harm is being done because all the surrogate mothers are willing and voluntary human incubators, they receive the finest care whilst carrying the surrogate baby, and they are paid anywhere from $6000 – $10,000 for their role. Many of the women also receive education and financial advise. In a country as ravished with poverty as India, $6000 is more than many rural people can make in a lifetime.
So, if it’s voluntary and the women are treated well, what’s the problem you might ask? Judith Warner suscintly lays out the moral dilemma of the newly popular “Rent-A-Womb” service in this New York Times article.
Because what’s going on in India – where surrogacy is estimated now to be a $445-million-a-year business — feels like a step toward the kind of insane dehumanization that filled the dystopic fantasies of Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” and Margaret Atwood’s “Handmaid’s Tale.” (One “medical tourism” website, PlanetHospital.com, refers to the Indian surrogate mother as a mere “host.”) Images of pregnant women lying in rows, or sitting lined up, belly after belly, for medical exams look like industrial outsourcing pushed to a nightmarish extreme.
There is a reason commercial surrogacy is banned in countries like France and Italy and in many US states (although not all). How different is this service compared to prostitution? Ultimately, in both surrogacy and prostitution the female body is reduced down to nothing more than a gendered shell to provide an entirely physical service. The arguments made by advocates can only be made because of the abject poverty in which most of the surrogate mothers come from. It’s funny how poverty can skew people’s perspective on what is and is not ethical.
So, what do you think? Is this just another example of globalization and industrialization or is this an example of dehumanization at its best?