28 July 2014
ByAppeared in BioNews 764
Available from the Centre for Bioethics and Culture
'Breeders: A Subclass of Women??' provides both thought-provoking and uncomfortable moments but ultimately fails to convince as an anti-surrogacy polemic. Produced by the Centre for Bioethics and Culture, the short film features interviews with four surrogates, who all had bad experiences carrying children for someone else.
Heather, for example, is a young woman who, after having had children of her own when young, decided to earn money by carrying children for people with fertility issues. Despite having one surrogate pregnancy, which she recalls as 'the best experience ever', she describes the traumatic second surrogacy, where the embryo was found to have abnormal brain development. The parents wished to terminate the pregnancy but Heather's Christian values led her to go against their wishes.
The case highlights how surrogate pregnancies can run into problems when the surrogate and intended parents' wishes clash. Despite feeling sorry for Heather, who clearly had connected with her disabled child, I felt uneasy listening to her describe the earnings she had received for each pregnancy - her surrogacy was something of a career, not an act of compassion.
Meanwhile, Cindy and Gail described experiences carrying someone else's child for personal reasons. Gail decided to carry the children for her brother and his gay partner using donor eggs. However, her relationship with her brother went badly wrong, resulting in him first abandoning her during the pregnancy and then trying to prevent her from having any access to the children.
I felt a lot of compassion for Gail, as I believe carrying a child for a friend or family member is something a lot of people would consider. But once again the problem seemed to stem from a lack of regulation - there was no contract between the surrogate and her brother - rather than the surrogacy itself.
Apart from the interviews with the surrogates, the film also features opinions from a selection of 'experts', who all criticise aspects of surrogacy. These experts include Nancy Verrier, author of the book 'The Primal Wound', who is opposed to any use of surrogacy as she believes a child forms with the mother - surrogate or not - when in the womb. Verrier relies on notions like the idea of 'cellular memory' - the ability of the fetus' cells to remember their mother's womb after birth - for which there is no scientific evidence.
The concerns voiced by Mona Lisa Wallace, a lawyer for the National Organisation for Women, are more valid. She was strong on the 'commercialisation of life' angle. Commercial surrogacy - where women can genuinely be paid as surrogates and not just receive a limited amount to compensate for expenses, as in the UK - is legal in some US states, Mexico and India.
All in all, 'Breeders' was a mixed bag. On the one hand, the film flags up important issues like over-commercialisation of surrogacy where mothers (in one definition, at least) are reduced to 'gestational carriers'. On the other hand, many of the issues described in the film appeared confused, conflating problems caused by a lack of regulation with concerns about surrogacy per se.
As such, there is currently no compelling evidence to suggest that acting as a gestational surrogate (carrying the egg of a donor) has a negative effect on the child. The real challenges lie in forming effective legislation and ethical frameworks within which surrogacy can happen.