I’ve been thinking about having kids lately. The Feminist Reproductive Ethics class I took last semester prompted me to ask myself questions I’ve never considered relevant: Do I want to have children? How important is it that I have biological children? And, assuming that I do want my own biological children, what if I can’t easily conceive, carry and birth such children due to infertility? To what lengths am I willing to go in order to produce my biological children?
For some people, the answer to that question is — to the ends of the Earth. Or, for many infertile American couples each year, at least overseas. One controversial case I studied concerned Lisa and Brian Switzer in 2007, a white, Texan couple who contracted Aasia Khan, an impoverished Indian woman from Mumbai, to gestate their embryo and birth their biological child. Who turned out to be twins. Which partially contributed to Khan’s hemorrhage. Which resulted in Khan being kept in the hospital and away from her family even longer than predicted. Which concluded with Khan getting compensated only $2,500—$4,500 less than what the Switzers were told Khan would receive.
The imbalances in the Switzers-Khan story hint at wider problems. Some contemporary systematic inequalities — racism, colorism, sexism, classism, ethnocentrism, ableism, to name a few — are issues that affect our cultures on all scales. One way these inequalities manifest is in limiting the poor, vulnerable gestational surrogates’ ability to advocate for themselves. Without formal oversight in the global surrogacy industry, there is no guarantee that the dignity and humanity of surrogates will be respected.
This assertion is echoed by Outsourcing the Womb by France Twine, which describes the privilege needed for access to such technologies as “stratified reproduction.”
Specifically, people who are born into wealthier families start at a more privileged point in their culture where they receive benefits and resources that help them get ahead of their poorer peers (these imbalances also occur in racial, sexual and other such contexts). These early benefits often continue to yield more and more advantages as these privileged youths grow up. Even if disadvantaged individuals work hard, these arbitrary factors can be the ultimate decider in what opportunities they can or can’t access. As such, it is reasonable to project that access to reproductive technologies, specifically expensive ones like IVF and surrogacy, will increasingly be reserved for the most privileged, wealthy and socially-dominant groups of people in the world.