US pundit Dave Rubin has announced that he’s soon to be the father of twins, with his husband, the producer David Janet. It’s not clear whether the mother is a paid or altruistic surrogate, but as a baby necessitates nine months in someone’s uterus, and neither Rubin nor Janet possess such an organ, it’s a certainty that a surrogate mother is involved.
Commercial surrogacy is big business, predicted to turn over some $27bn worldwide by 2025. And the world has gained a sudden glimpse under the bonnet of this industry since the pandemic, and now the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. After the USA, Ukraine is the second most popular destination worldwide for surrogacy, with an estimated 2,000 babies born to paid gestational surrogates there every year. And now, numerous such babies are being born only to find themselves stranded in a warzone, with the commissioning customers unable to collect their order.
The press has published piteous photos of rows of tiny cribs, each of which contains a newborn baby, separated at birth from a mother paid only to gestate but not to love it. These babies are cared for not with the rapt, intimate attention of a loving mother but on a production-line basis by paid nursing staff.
This treatment of living humans as products is profoundly dystopian. QZ reports that BioTexCom has built a bomb shelter in the basement of its ‘fertility facility’ to shelter the pregnant women manufacturing babies for BioTexCom clients. But while in wartime it’s common for communities to prioritise the safety of mothers and children where possible, it’s clear that what BioTexCom is sheltering here isn’t the most vulnerable civilians: it’s their assets. Literally, ‘human resources’.
I welcome the space that we’ve created in the modern world for long-term, committed same-sex relationships. But all-male couples by definition can’t gestate a child. And before we applaud gestational surrogacy in the name of gay rights, we should think very carefully about what — or who — is being instrumentalised in the process, or indeed in offering surrogacy as a solution to any infertility. For in the name of granting an infertile couple — whether because they’re both male or for some other reason — freedom from the limitations of their biology, a human woman is being partly if not wholly objectified: transformed to a suite of manufacturing services.
Rubin has been seeking a child by surrogacy for some time, and reflected on the process in his 2020 book Don’t Burn This Book. Perhaps, he says, his sister and partner will provide the egg and sperm respectively to be ‘mixed in a lab’, after which ‘nine months later a child will be born’.
Here he makes no mention of the intervening stage, which the baby spends in someone’s uterus, or indeed who that ‘someone’ might be. Everything is phrased in terms that suggest something clean, hygienic and perhaps automated, and the uterus doing the work is carefully depersonalised. We don’t get much sense that the manufacture of Rubin’s baby is happening literally inside the internal organs of a living woman.
And while I don’t know whether Rubin is obtaining his babies via a paid or altruistic surrogate, the scandals that have dogged BioTexCom — including injured and even dead surrogate mothers and a 2011 charge of human trafficking — reveal how easily this de-personalisation and objectification of living human women becomes outright horror.
I have immense sympathy for people who can’t have children. The longing to be a father or mother is powerful, and people can suffer deeply when it’s unfulfilled. But life is inescapably tragic, and most of us have to live with things we can’t change. No matter how powerful the longing for children, we must not seek to transcend the limitations of our sexed bodies, if this comes at the cost of using women’s internal organs as industrial machinery.