Monday, September 28, 2009

IVF News - Experts attack 'fertility tourism' industry

IVF News - Experts attack 'fertility tourism' industry: "British couples travelling abroad to take advantage of commercial surrogate arrangements are engaging in a form of 'exploitation', Professor Naomi Pfeffer, an expert in the ethics and regulation of controversial developments in medicine, said at a fertility meeting this week.

Speaking at the 'Motherhood in the 21st Century' conference at University College London on Friday, she said: 'The exchange relationship is analogous to that of a client and a prostitute. It's a unique situation because it's the only instance in which a woman exploits another woman's body.'"

This is a typical worldview of an "expert" from the UK. Just because these women are poor does not mean they are stupid. If the surrogate offered to do this for free, I guess Prof Pfeffer would have no objections. Her only objection seems to be that money is changing hands, and this is what "contaminates" the transaction . I cannot agree with this viewpoint. Yes, the women are poor, but they are street smart enough to survive in Indian urban slums . They live in circumstances in which women like Prof Pfeffer and doctors like me would not be able to survive for even 2 days ! Does being poor mean they need to be protected by experts from the UK ?

I appreciate Prof Pfeffer's intention is to protect these women, but I am very disappointed by this lack of empathy . I wish these experts would talk to the surrogate to understand their point of view, rather than make such sweeping and unkind generalisations.

Let's look at a typical surrogate's story. She is poor; lives in a slum; has two children; and a husband who works, but cannot make ends meet. She can continue eking out a life of quiet desperation, and because she is not educated , can never exit this hellish life. One way out of this trap is to earn some money by being a surrogate. Not only does this earn her family some money which may allow her to get a better education for her children, it also ensures her some rest and pampering during her pregnancy. Is she being stupid by agreeing to opt for this ? The fact that so many women clamour to become surrogates - and that it's usually one surrogate who then brings lots of her friends as well , suggests that the surrogates are quite comfortable with this arrangement.

I agree surrogates can be exploited. But this is true of any transaction. Isn't it better to implement regulations and guidelines to protect them ? This is a constructive approach - rather than the "holier-than-thou" sanctimonious approach taken by experts who claim to speak for these women in order to protect them !

Why can't we trust poor women to make the right decisions for themselves ? Does the fact they are poor means that they need "protection from exploitation" or that they need Western experts to speak for them ? Just because they don't have a voice, can experts claim to speak on their behalf just because they are articulate and educated ?

I guess in a way I am being unfair to Prof Pfeffer. I do agree that some clinics can exploit surrogates, and they are more likely to do so because they can get away with it, since these women are poor and poorly educated. This means there is a grain of truth in what she says. However, to claim that it's the infertile women who are exploiting the surrogates is very unfair. Infertile women are unhappy and depressed. Surrogacy is often the last-ditch effort many make to have their own baby - and why would they want to exploit some other woman to do so ? In fact, it's in the infertile couple's best interests that the surrogate be well-nourished and well-cared for during her pregnancy, to ensure their baby gets the best prenatal care ! Most infertile couples are very grateful to their surrogates - and just because some unscrupulous doctors take undue advantage of some surrogates, to tar infertile couples with this brush of exploitation is unkind and uncalled for !

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