What if your body prevented you from realising an aspiration that felt fundamental to your very being? Would you be willing to accept its limitations?
A woman who wishes to start a family but finds she is unable to sustain a baby biologically is faced with this challenge, as are many loving couples, both heterosexual and same-sex, who long for children of their own.
Given a handful of reproductive options, they must choose to either resign themselves to their misfortune and set aside their hopes of a family, or find alternative, non-traditional means to get what they desire. Sometimes this involves a third party – one who can carry the baby to term, often many thousands of kilometres away.
Renting another woman’s womb to create a much-wanted child may sound futuristic, but surrogacy has been practised since prehistoric times.
Societies from the Native American Indians to Europe’s early royals all accepted altruistic surrogacy as a way of continuing family bloodlines. Now, thanks to scientific progress, today’s would-be parents are able to have their biological babies carried in the wombs of other women.
Despite this, the risks and messy paperwork related to third-party pregnancy has seen it banned in many countries, leaving a few regions to bear the brunt of this lucrative area of global medical tourism. But what are the real costs of commercial surrogacy?
The fear is that when money rather than goodwill becomes the motivation, children become commodities and, “like any transaction, there is a capacity for exploitation”, argues Dr Simon Longstaff from the St James Ethics Centre, in light of international surrogacy scandals.
Like any industry, regulation is needed. Jenni Millbank, Professor of Law at the University of Technology in Sydney, believes we should be aiming for reproductive self-sufficiency at home rather than exporting our problems overseas.
“If we did it properly here, we’d avoid exploitation of anybody … above all, the children.”