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Don’t treat children like consumer goods

Brigid, a girl born via commercial surrogacy in Ukraine

September 21, 2020 - 11:31am

This desperately sad short film published by Radio Free Europe looks at the case of Brigid, a girl born via commercial surrogacy in Ukraine. Brigid was born with disabilities, rejected by her US-based commissioning ‘mother’ and subsequently also by the woman who birthed her.

Though paid surrogacy is regarded as shameful in Ukraine, it pays well: women can earn around £14,000 for carrying a baby, a significant sum in a country where average monthly wages are around £320. The feminist Julie Bindel has written extensively about the grim reality of exploited women that lurks beneath the shiny image projected by surrogacy brokers, of loving would-be parents and altruistic gestational mothers.

Stories such as Brigid’s underline a further moral hazard: that introducing commercial considerations into the realm of family bonds results in the methodical objectification of children. As far as her commissioning ‘family’ was concerned, Brigid was only a child as long as she met the customer’s expectations for what their offspring would be like. When she turned out to be faulty, she was rejected.

Brigid isn’t the first such story: in 2014 a British couple rejected their biological child, born via surrogacy, due to her disabilities. The commissioning mother reportedly said of the baby: “She’d be a ****ing dribbling cabbage! Who would want to adopt her?”

But a disabled child is a human being, not an object to be binned and replaced like a faulty iPhone. And the fact that Brigid’s commissioning ‘parents’ felt able to do so underlines the unbridgeable gulf between the commercial realm and the relational one that normally governs family life.

The transactional element in Brigid’s conception and gestation served to obliterate — both for the commissioning ‘parents’ and also for the gestational mother — the adaptive, evolved caretaking instinct that’s normally central to parenthood.

Commercial surrogacy explicitly seeks to denaturalise that adaptive, animal instinct, to subordinate it to questions of ‘rights’ and legally enforceable contracts. And the mindset that sees this as reasonable and progressive appears to be gaining strength in Britain as well.

Earlier this year, the Law Commission published the result of a consultation that advised making commercial surrogacy easier, while pointedly passing the ball on whether or not paid surrogacy should be permitted in the UK.

As things stand, family life is one of the last hold-outs against a seemingly inexorable drive to order everything human under the transactional logic of trade. We should resist the drive to normalise and regulate the commissioning of babies. Treating children as consumer goods is an attack on all our humanity.

Mary Harrington is a contributing editor at UnHerd.


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