In recent years, and with the increasing routinization and reliability of medically-assisted reproductive techniques, it has become more common for people to enter into a relationship in which a woman gestates an embryo and delivers a child on behalf of another person or couple, commonly called a surrogacy relationship. While adoption of various kinds is seen as normal, contracting a woman to act as a “surrogate mother” is seen as fraught with danger and ethical risk. Many countries do not allow surrogacy, and many impose heavy regulations. Other countries have become surrogacy hotspots, feeding demand for the institution from countries where it is banned. Also, many countries have become hotspots for hiring poor women willing to be paid for surrogacy for affluent foreign women, especially in parts of Asia. For anthropologists, this is an opportunity to see the creation of a new kind of social institution, and all the conflict and tension this creates. It raises many questions, especially whether surrogacy is ethical and, if not, why not.
A common type of surrogacy relationship is one in which a married heterosexual couple use in-vitro fertilization (IVF) to create embryos. Several of these are then implanted in the uterus of the surrogate mother. If implantation is successful, and the surrogate then becomes pregnant, she carries the fetus or fetuses to term and delivers them. Her medical care is the responsibility of the couple who will receive the children.
Surrogacy is also another example of public and media fascination with a controversial new trend. IVF has become more accepted, and past media panics over possible deformed or abnormal babies have subsided (although IVF itself presents special unforseen risks which are still widely discussed). Surrogacy now seems to have become a new hot-button issue. This too is interesting to anthropologists because, as a media spectacle and moral panic, the public representation of surrogacy plays on ideas in a culture about family and relationships which are often unstated and unquestioned. Here are some examples of Surrogacy Live:
Haberman, Clyde. 2014. “Baby M and the Question of Surrogate Motherhood.” The New York Times, March 23. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/24/us/baby-m-and-the-question-of-surrogate-motherhood.html.
“Baby M and the Question of Surrogacy.” 2014. Retro Report. Accessed August 2. http://retroreport.org/baby-m-and-the-question-of-surrogacy/.
Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 2014. “Fears of Surrogacy Ban as WA Couple Rejects Baby with Down Syndrome.” ABC News. Accessed August 2. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-08-02/outrage-as-australian-parents-desert-surrogate-mother/5643074.
Fuller, Thomas. 2014. “Thailand’s Business in Paid Surrogates May Be Foundering in a Moral Quagmire.” The New York Times, August 26. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/27/world/asia/in-thailands-surrogacy-industry-profit-and-a-moral-quagmire.html.
Lewin, Tamar. 2014a. “Foreign Couples Heading to America for Surrogate Pregnancies.” The New York Times, July 5. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/06/us/foreign-couples-heading-to-america-for-surrogate-pregnancies.html.
———. 2014b. “A Surrogacy Agency That Delivered Heartache.” The New York Times, July 27. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/28/us/surrogacy-agency-planet-hospital-delivered-heartache.html.