BRUSSELS — For the second time around a surrogacy fair organised by the American company Men Having Babies landed on Belgian soil. This time it took place in a slightly more upscale venue. The ground floor at The Brussels Hilton became a stage where 220 potential customers from 12 European countries were welcomed.
Like last year, I was present. Me: the first in our generation to provide adults with a semi-biological child. It was the start of a lucrative business when fertility doctors discovered that the techniques used on a pig farm could also be useful for infertile heterosexual couples.
From the 1950s Belgian wombs were being filled with the sperm of unknown men. Fertility techniques improved and not much later they tapped into new target groups: single women and lesbian couples.
Branding unwanted childlessness as discrimination and injustice, several branches of the LGBT community are lobbying for gay men and transgender women to have biological children of their own.
Last Sunday almost everything was on offer: interpreters, gadgets, price lists, different formulas, the dos and the don’ts… But most of all, straight-to-your-heart-and-into-our-wallet sales pitches from companies which are able to connect anyone directly with eggs, surrogacy agencies and lawyers to make “a dream come true”. Lawyers handed out the metaphorical road map with instructions on how to by-pass laws to get your purchased child(ren) “legally” in your own country.
Towards an ethical framework
This year Men Having Babies also presented an “ethical framework” to convince opponents of their sincere and honest intentions. They claim to be a non-profit organization aiming to provide tools and means for gay men to pursue their right to have a biological family. The fact that their biggest sponsors happened to be the very fertility centers and law firms that pitched to the 220 attendees wasn’t viewed as a conflict of interest.
Surrogacy was described as “the act of a woman, altruistic by nature, gestating a child for another individual or couple, with the intent to give the child to the intended parents at birth”.
I have a very different perspective. I would describe it as the outsourcing of a personalized pregnancy that aims the trading/adoption of a donor-conceived child to those who ordered it whilst paying a fee for expenses.
New terms were launched to keep the transactions as business-like as possible: the surrogate mother was called “a carrier”, the egg donor “a genetic material contributor”. Some agencies also offered a money-back guarantees(no kidding) and “Multiple Cycle Package” deals.
Several times speakers advised against adoption. They said that nowadays there are not many young children to adopt and the probability that the mother may decide to keep “your” child is too great a risk. Surrogacy, once again, brought salvation.
Speakers strongly advised the participants to use eggs from a woman other than the surrogate, because the birth mother will then be more likely to give up the baby.
An enforceable 50-page contract also offers reassurance that you can take the child home with you after it is born. The contract even allows payments to stop if the surrogate does not comply with the terms of the contract. I must also mention that many contracts have a non-disclosure clause: they prohibit women from speaking publicly about any malpractice they endured.
A lot of time and attention was spent on the topic of conceiving as healthy a child as possible. Gender selection is included in this “service”. My consternation was huge when a fertility doctor asked the audience who would chose to abort a child with a defect. Most hands went in the air. Just for the record: abortion can also be enforced by contract.
Apart from “I want my child to be as healthy and perfect as possible”, discussion of the welfare of the child was – as it is in Belgium – limited to the legal uncertainty that is created when there is a legal conflict between genetic lineage and legal parenthood. Only twice (and very briefly) were the right of the child to knowledge of his or her ancestry and identity mentioned. But these were immediately countered by economic and practical arguments.
Once again certain Belgian politicians have sought the media limelight to express their personal disgust regarding this event. Yet their dismay is hypocritical. They refuse to acknowledge that similar practices are taking place all the time in IVF clinics with the same ethical framework to justify them. Apparently a policy is ethical when the price is low, transparency is not needed and fancy brochures are not being handed out.
An ethicist once told me that something is not ethical when someone’s action harms another. Isn’t the intentional creation of a human being who has been deprived of vital information about themselves and a meaningful relationship with their biological family harmful? In my view the only ethical standard that needs be applied when considered whether or not to allow surrogacy and donor conception.
As disgusted as one might be by the American event, it is time to reflect, and to acknowledge that for decades we Belgians have been violating human rights on own soil when we enabled the commercialization of “Plan B parenthood” at the expense of children who are conceived to fulfil the dreams of an adult.
Stephanie Raeymaekers is the chair of Donorkinderen, a Belgian organisation that promotes cross-border registration of donors and the right of donor-conceived persons to know their parentage. The above article is reproduced from the Donorkinderen blog with her permission. Contact her on firstname.lastname@example.org