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Surrogacy May Be Legal, But Is It Moral?

Posted: July 9, 2013

The recent news of actor Shahrukh Khan and his wife Gauri having a baby through surrogacy is the latest ‘breaking news’ to emerge on media screens, and no doubt, we will see the tamasha playing out for some time in public. Ghoulish curiosity centres on all choices and actions of modern celebrities, and they play their part in ensuring that this curiosity is partly satiated, keeping us hankering for more.

Rumours abound that the couple engaged in sex-determination testing in order to ensure a boy, and if that is true, not only are they clearly running afoul of Indian law, it also makes me wonder about the star’s much touted respect for women, including a well-known video campaign he recently participated in, where he claimed that the female co-star in his movies would receive first billing.

Surrogacy in IndiaQuite apart from the issue of sex determination, I have also been thinking about the issue of surrogacy itself, and how valid a choice it is. My views on this have changed a little over the years. I believed (and still do) that a woman’s body is her own, and if she would like to bear a child for another, and receive compensation for the use of her womb, well-meaning others should not strike down that choice. Yes, it is paying a person for the use of her body, but all of us use our bodies in many ways. White collar workers use their bodies to sit at a desk for 8 hours and ruin their spine, construction workers carry heavy loads on their heads, sex workers use their bodies too.

This doesn’t mean surrogacy is necessarily a healthy choice, but I don’t think it should be banned either. Commercial surrogacy as it presently exists in India is exploitative – because the surrogate mother needs the money and often comes from a less affluent as well as educated background, she is treated purely as a vessel for the developing foetus, with focus on the health of the foetus taking precedence over her other rights. So, we hear that surrogacy clinics do not allow such women to live with their families or even go out freely as they wish. In short, their lifestyle is closely monitored during the pregnancy, and they lose much autonomy in the guise of concern about their health.

For this reason, while I still don’t think it should be banned, since that would only drive such programs underground, I do think it needs much better regulation. Also, while it may be legal, I am not convinced at all that it is a moral choice.

It’s all very well for Shahrukh Khan to say that it is a personal matter, but choices have impact and need to be examined. Some of the questions that this case threw up in my mind are:

– How ok is it for parents who already have children, to choose to have a third child? I feel that humans are already imposing a heavy burden on the earth, the impact of which is becoming clear even within our lifetimes. Even if we accept that the urge to pass on our genes is a natural one, should there not be limits we impose on ourselves? I’m not absolutist on this one – I do understand that sometimes people may have a child more than planned, but to actively pursue a third child by a means like surrogacy seems like an iffy choice to me.

– How comfortable would you be using surrogacy as a method to grow your family, if you thought about the circumstances in which surrogate mothers live? They may be physically comfortable (at least that is what agencies claim), but how moral is it to participate in an arrangement where a woman’s body and its use as a vessel for your child takes precedence over her own life and autonomy? What if at some stage early on in the pregnancy, there was risk to the surrogate mother’s life? Is she free to make a choice to abort, especially since it is a commercial transaction?

– In general, do we need to jump through hoops like these in order to grow our families? Individual choice yes, but isn’t a choice like adoption much kinder on everyone? I understand that bloodline means something to a lot of people, but in this case, the couple already have that experience.

What do you think? Are your views on surrogacy B&W or do you think it is a gray area? I’d especially love to hear from those who have had challenges conceiving and/or considered various options to build your family.

Pic credit: Jon Ovington (Used under a Creative Commons license)

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  1. What happens if a surrogate mother wishes to abort the fetus for whatever reasons? Will she have the freedom to do it? What if those who have used a woman for surrogate pregnancy wish to terminate the contract and seek abortion of their child? These are some of the ethical issues that come to my mind. In the future probably there will be a legal framework to cover these. However, law has its own limits. Consider, as a sign of progress, mothers will no more be able to say they have cared for their children by bearing them through “nine months of suffering” and labor, thereby also forsaking the joy of the whole process of motherhood. It is bound to alter the emotional aspect of mother-child relationship…

    • True, surrogacy does bring up these ethical issues of ownership. Hopefully, law will evolve to cover these. However, I do not think any mother looks at surrogacy as an option as a “sign of progress”, nor does missing labour take away the joy of the process of motherhood. Do we look at Yashoda as less of a mother because she did not bear Krishna in her womb for 9 months? To link motherhood exclusively to child-bearing and to take lack of child-bearing as signs of less emotional attachment is IMO dismissing the many amazing mothers who have brought up children not of their womb.

  2. Very relevant post!!

    Even i wondered why he had to go for a 3rd child when he already has a boy and a girl(supposedly the best combo of kids!!)

    Adoption would have been a good option but as you mentioned-The Khan blood seemed more valuable to them..

    The baby has been born prematurely and his health is more important than all the curiosity..

    Hope the saga has a peaceful end and the baby grows up to be healthy, happy and a future superstar!

  3. My thoughts are not specific to srk’s case – They say a child’s relationship starts from her womb..in surrogacy the child n the carrying mother would loose out on this…having said that..I don’t want to ignore the fact that it might be blessing in disguise for those who cannot conceive and do not wish to adopt. Because adoption needs more courage than going for surrogacy. But going for surrogacy just for the sake of it despite having other options might be against ethical responsibility towards our environment according to me.

    • Interesting, Shweta – why did you feel that adoption needs *more* courage than surrogacy?

    • Hi Aparna,

      I have seen 2 kids who were adopted by their mother’s sister after mothers death. But when that lady had her own kids she could not be same towards her sisters kids. It would really break hearts to see those two little angels being deprived of small things like food of choice, new dress on bday, picnics from school, when the biological son and daughter were given everything. I feel now that if those kids were also born as surrogate kids to same mother they would have had a better life. Its like, loving someone unconditionally knowing they are not yours is tougher than loving someone who is yours though borrowed from somewhere else. That’s why I feel, surrogacy is easier than adoption as it takes lot of courage to care for someone else’s kid same as own.

  4. As an adoptive mother I find throwing up adoption as a solution minimizes the issues that adopting a child has specifically for the child. Adoption is no walk in the park and not everyone is cut out for it. As for surrogacy, so long as it is legal, I think the decision is solely that of the people choosing to go that route. Hopefully they are entering into any contracts knowing what the mother on the other end is going through.

    • Agree, Lakshmi. I didn’t mean to imply that adoption is an easy route. On surrogacy, my point is not about if it is legal – there are many things that are legal, but we choose not to do them. Even if it is legal, how do you *feel* about another woman losing control over her body, is my question? You may know about it, but does it impact your decision? I’m talking commercial surrogacy here of course…

  5. Mandating how many children people should have for reasons of “the greater good of the planet” is a slippery slope, for which reason thankfully few governments resort to it. China tried and the success is debatable, but while there were short- to medium-term economic gains, they are now faced with an unbalanced population – a large number of elderly with a shortage of working people to support them. There are economists who question whether small population results in higher economic growth anyway. Moreover in the past, people did have many children and the planet was not overburdened because death rates were high, people didn’t survive that long and also overall consumption was less. So maybe we might start with consuming less? I think the cases of people having large families are going to decline anyway naturally.

    As someone else pointed out above, adoption, while a valid and good way to grow a family, is not for everyone.

    I agree that surogacy is okay, but should be regulated. From what I have read, currently the regulation in India is focussed on the rights of the couple claiming the child and the doctors not the woman bearing the child.

    • Oh yes, totally agree that state mandating of family size should not be a solution. In any case, those solutions penalize women the most since women are the ones who go through pregnancy.

      Reg surrogacy, that is the problem – that the surrogate mother’s rights fall last on the list.

  6. I so agree. Where was the need for a third child? As you say people do sometimes have more children than they planned to have–often because they didn’t have the heart to terminate an unplanned pregnancy– but to actively pursue a third child, in an already overpopulated country that has spent so much time and money dinning ‘hum do hamare do’ into the heads of its people, is not right at all! Should people be allowed to have as many children as they want just because they can afford it?

    And I am afraid surrogacy is as exploitative and as much of a racket as organ-donation/ blood donation for compensation. Only worse because it might also wreak havoc on the emotional health of the surrogate mother apart from physical issues. It might be acceptable in the case of a couple unable to conceive naturally, but let it not become a fad, an indulgence for the ultra-rich, who seem to believe that everything in the world is theirs for the asking. And buying.

    • Scribblehappy, I believe that couples should be *allowed* to have as many children as they want, in the sense that I don’t think coercive measures should be used. I don’t think it is right though, and if they are free to resort to desperate means to have a third child, you and me are free to judge them!

    • SRK can afford a third child. I guess it’s okay

  7. I appreciate the fact that this topic has ben introduced for discussion in this forum.It does look like God’s gift to those who are unable to conceive though they desperately want a child and when they uncomfortable with adoption.But the need to beget a third child by parents who have already begotten children of their own is quite perplexing.but again,this is one’s freedom of choice. looking at it socio-politically,in India, i do not think that it is a good idea when we are already so overpopulated.be that as it may,surrogacy under the circumstances as i have mentioned seems to be a godsend but the legal aspects of it are not very clear in India.As for the carrier lady as the surrogate is called does have the right to protect her own health and the would be parents are also required to take extra care of her health if need be.

  8. I honestly do not think any of us has the right to decide how many children is ‘just right’. I have one, does that mean people with two, have too many?NO! Really not in our place to question why they felt the need to add a third child to their family.

    The only thing I would worry about is the sex selection aspect if that were true. Apart from that – why they had a 3rd child, why they didn’t adopt…really not our business.

  9. Absolutely Gayathri! Its nobody’s business to decide how many children a couple should have. Nobody jumps onto surrogacy without weighing the other possible options. Understand, it is as risky and stressful to the couple as it is to the surrogate mother. And here, most often than not, both parties do it for a reason. If one gets their own biologic child, the other is getting money (which may be the most important thing for her at that stage). All of us work for money, our means are different. Nobody is forced here. And talking about adoption, yes its not a cakewalk! But why compare surrogacy and adoption?? Your own child is your own child, as is the case with surrogacy. Then why get pregnant and go through nine tough months when you can adopt??? If you really want to adopt, u need not be infertile for that! Everyone wants their own child. And whats wrong in that?? So I believe nothing wrong in going for surrogacy, if natural pregnancy is not possible. And even in the case of Shahrukh and Gauri Khan, they are way to old to go ahead with a natural/ normal pregnancy. Cheers!

    • I’ve never said there is anything wrong in wanting a biological child, Anuja (note, “own” child is wrong usage – a child who is adopted is also your own child). And I do agree that people would be evaluating options without surrogacy. No one is “deciding” how many children a couple should have, but yes, I have strong opinions on this given how we are depleting the planet, and I am free to judge, just as they are free to decide. One thing I do disagree with you on, is this, “Understand, it is as risky and stressful to the couple as it is to the surrogate mother. ” – No, it is not. The surrogate mother can die during childbirth for e.g.,I wonder if you think that risk applies to the couple?

    • Hi, am glad we are all putting our points down. As far as the risk to the couple is concerned, even in surrogacy, the eggs and sperms are retrieved from the couple surgically which again are extremely sensitive procedures. And not as routinely done as natural deliveries. And trust me, there is intense amount of technical and patient preparation involved to do this. The specialists themselves doing this, claim it to be a tough task! As far as losing a life is concerned, any procedure done under general anesthesia has equal, if not more risk involved.
      Regarding the comparison between adoption and surrogacy, I guess I put it down quite clearly. Am absolutely for adoption but not because natural pregnancy is not possible. Yes, adopted child is also our ‘own’ as you said, but I believe surrogacy is a wonderful chance for a couple to have their biologic child. As long as the parties involved are satisfied, all is well! 🙂

      To choose not to have a child and to be unable to have one for medical reasons, are two different worlds. Am sure statements like “adoption being a kinder option than surrogacy” can be disheartening to a couple whose putting in their time, money, efforts and more importantly many emotions and dreams towards having a biologic child through surrogacy (which is a very tedious process taking sometimes 2 or more years!) . They aren’t mean. They’re just born different! Thanks.

    • Hia Anuja
      Just adding to what you said,
      That maybe the couple has no option but to go through the process of surrogacy.Hence no one can really say if it is wrong or right without knowing why this option has been chosen.

  10. I wonder why a website, with basis on feminism, thinks of surrogacy as a not-so-moral choice. Of course, I agree that it is important to have regulations in surrogacy..The surrogate mother need to be protected – not just in providing comfortable physical space, but also mentally. And that, they should be heavily paid. From what I have read, they are given a hefty amount for this wonderful sacrifice.
    If we truly truly care for the planet- and are really logical people- none of us should have children. Instead, we should all adopt. Especially, in a country like India- it may not be difficult to adopt. So, it need not be difficult as in USA.However, many of us ( i m talking abt general public- there may be exceptions)..do not think of adoption, if we are happily married- and are fertile. ( eg. of ppl who have opted for adoption in film field -since we are talking of sRK here- is Sushmitha Sen and Shobhana- both not married.. ya, they could have used donor sperm- they did not)

    As for SRK having a third child.. I wonder if you would have written this article, if he had a third child naturally ( not an accident- but planning for a third child)..So, you felt the need to judge them, cos of the surrogacy angle. So, would you have felt the need to judge them, if they had done surrogacy in U.S, where it is very regulated?Kindly answer me..

    According to me, adoption is wonderful..But, as the mother who has actually adopted a child had written earlier, it is not for everyone..Adoption should not be consider a “kindness” or charity..I m sure that every couple who takes upon surrogacy, thinks about it a lot before coming to the decision.

    Personally, I am going through all these thoughts myself. I have a problem called recurrent miscarriage, which is unexplained. I’m going thru many experimental treatments. It is a very confusing period for me. I am wondering if I should keep trying, if I should adopt or If i should go for surrogacy. If I can resolve my grief, I might adopt. Or, I might try a surrogate mother, if I can afford. I do not know at this stage. But, the least I would expect from a website, which is seriously concerned abt women’s issues..is to not judge me in whatever decision I make.
    Again, I do agree that our country has to make regulations on surrogacy in order to prevent any exploitation of the surrogate mother, who in all probability, would be a woman from the socially lower background.


    • Jaya, the “website” does not think anything as far as this post goes. Views on a group blog are the views of individual contributors, in this case mine. I believe it is not moral in today’s situation precisely because of the lack of regulation – it takes away another woman’s control over her own body. If it was properly regulated, I do not have an issue with it. As I said, “… if she would like to bear a child for another, and receive compensation for the use of her womb, well-meaning others should not strike down that choice.”

      As for the third child, I did not judge them *only* because of the surrogacy angle, but yes, I believe that planning for a third child should not be done in a world with too many people already. Because they used surrogacy, we know the pregnancy was planned, else we would not have known it. In that sense, surrogacy plays a role, but I do judge anyone who has more than the replacement rate of children. Two children (whether by birth, by adoption or any other means) makes sense to me, since it is the replacement rate.

    • “But, the least I would expect from a website, which is seriously concerned abt women’s issues..is to not judge me in whatever decision I make.” – also, I find this problematic. Yes, a women’s website will be supportive of women, but that doesn’t mean I should consider every choice of another woman correct. Taken to the extreme end, if another woman is aborting foetuses because they are female, would you support her? That’s a choice and a decision too, isn’t it?

    • Sorry for the multiple comments! Just wanted to add, because I believe some choices are better than others doesn’t mean I cannot empathise with your situation. Hugs, and good luck in finding a path that works for you.

    • I think nobody here has said that surrogacy should not be an option at all–it is understood that for people unable to have a biological child naturally, it may be the only option available. Nobody is grudging them that option. What a lot of us find exceptionable is the trend of people going for surrogacy even when they already have two biological children. In our overpopulated country, it would be undesirable for people to start wanting to have more than two biological children– and then to start exploring the surrogacy option too when they can have that child themselves (SRK and Gauri khan are by no means too old to have a child naturally). Of course a lot of us may ‘feel the need’ to judge them for making such a choice.

      What if they’d gone for surrogacy in the US, you ask. Well, it wouldn’t change the basic objection–surrogacy is ethically dubious and exploitative if the couple are able to bear that child themselves. The nationality of the surrogate mother is of no consequence.

      I really do feel that surrogacy as an option should not be available to a couple who are capable of conceiving and carrying a fetus to term.

  11. I think the media has gone overboard with discussing the latest development in SRK’s life. There are millions of families that opt for surrogacy while you and I ponder over of SRK should have opted for a surrogated third child. I completely agree that surrogacy should be regulated so that women have a voice and are not exploited.

    On a separate note, me and my husband have always wanted to adopt a kid. My mother works at an orphanage, and I have been seeing orphans as little as a few days/hours old over there. I personally feel that it makes more sense to use the money that you have or you would borrow to bring up an orphan rather than using it for expensive fertility treatments or to pay a surrogate mother.

  12. I read today that surrogate children get deprived of mother’s milk which is critically important for a child’s early brain development

  13. Hi
    I am having twins with the help from a wonderful surrogate in India. Words cannot describe how grateful I am to her, I have tried for a baby for 18 years and had only miscarriages. I applied to adopt and in my country was refused as I suffer from a chronic pain condition although my husband is healthy and my condition is managed with medication. So this is the only way I will ever know the joy of motherhood. I am so grateful to our clinic and surrogate for giving us this chance to be parents. We do not care if the babies are boys or girls as long as they are healthy and praying our surrogate continues to feel well and she will be given every assistance to recover after the birth physically and emotionally. We went to a large and reputable clinic and met our surrogate before proceeding, this clinic does not use dormatories but pays the surrogates rent for the duration and food bills and a family member to help with children and housework. I hope this keeps life as normal as possible for her. I wanted to feel 100% satisfied that the surrogate is the number one priority before beginning this journey, she is the one who is giving me such a wonderful gift , to become a mother. I will cherish her in my heart forever.

  14. Girlsgotgumption -

    The title of this article is wrong on so many levels. How is ‘ morality’ a point of question here? I came across this website and read many articles and was impressed with the writers till I came across this! This sets back feminism and progressive thinking back to many generations! This is a topic to discuss but the title is judging women who chose to have babies through surrogacy as immoral ? I hope the author understand how strong a word morality is and how wrong it is to judge people . Adoption and surrogacy are choices . Let’s not be too harsh on people who are different from us.

    • Hi – thanks for your comment. I agree, the title could have been better chosen. I do still have issues with surrogacy as a choice. I do not mean to imply that the person making the choice is immoral – but – as a choice, I do think it is problematic. I don’t believe all choices are created equal.

  15. Hi, went through all the comments and actually learnt so much about surrogacy and adoption, thanks. I too wish to share my views I have 2 very close people, one friend and other my cousin who have gone through all these. My cousin who couldn’t conceive naturally and also after years of fertility treatment,opted for adoption. The couple lost hope until they saw a family who had both an adopted daughter and a biological daughter. No one could spot any difference and only after she (my cousin) opened up to the other lady about her fertility issues, did she say about her adopted daughter. My cousin immediately took her husband and approached the same adoption centre and adopted a baby girl, she is now 15yrs old. The friend who had miscarriages and with a weak uterus her doc said no more pregnancies. She was ok with adoption but her in-laws and husband were not. So they went ahead for Surrogacy…what happened, lot of stress on them to cover the expenses.Lot of tension within the family, no one came forward with monetary help. Eventually they took a bank loan and still paying the EMIs.
    According to me Surrogacy is for the rich and adoption is the best method. I have friends who have adopted children and they are very happy. If you ask me I will never suggest fertility treatments too, since it is a torture to us women. I have seen failure in treatments and then the mental pressure. You lose lot of time, & your career also goes for a toss. Regarding celebrity couples they have all the money to spend on these things.

  16. Hello. Just read through the discussion and noted straight away that everyone is sidestepping the real issue. #LGBT rights have been upheld and same sex couples marriages are legal in all the states in the country where I am a naturalized citizen. The only way same sex couples can have children is through surrogacy. The couple provide the sperm or egg and the surrogate carries the baby to term. So the equation is different as without this route the couple would have no lineage. Couple can openly advertise and choose the race and type of child they want, and the surrogate mother if she carries the couples child does nurse, care and nurture the child till weaned away so a child has three parents. If the couple is lesbian, the sperm donor is around to act as father later on and records, stem cells embryos are all preserved as per state laws. I know of a scientist who did research in a radioactive lab. discovered he was impotent and the couple used the sperm he had stored in a cryogenics lab to have a child twenty years later.. Of course, Celine Dion is a clear example of using frozen sperm as husband has terminal illness and age is also a factor.I also know of couples who have been trying forever but had almost 7 miscarriages so surrogacy is a real option..the pros and cons are individual in each case but it does fill a need. I have not even touched on transgender issue and for folks who shy away..hey get real..this is something we have to face at some point . Sweeping it under the carpet or just turning a blind eye is no longer the solution.

  17. Adoption is surely better option (personal choice). This gives a homeless a chance to live, grow and do something in life. Just because science has offered with this option we may opt for it. Its available to most of the people today. But instead of spending money to get “own” child we can probably think of adopting one. The feeling of motherhood not necessarily comes from having own child, this feeling can be for siblings, younger colleagues, friends, dogs, cats, pets or so.

    Motherhood is all about love!

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