BBC Radio 4, Thursday 21 August 2014
Presented by Catrin Nye
BBC Radio 4 's 'The Report' ventured into the ethically controversial area of surrogacy, which made international media headlines following the recent baby Gammy controversy. But despite the critical attention surrogacy has received recently (see BioNews 746), the programme managed to start off and end positively, while at the same time striving for impartiality.
To get the widest possible angle, the programme interviewed several people with different experiences of surrogacy. They included a surrogate mother who is married with children, another who is single, three sets of intended parents and a worker from Cots, a UK surrogacy advisory service. Listeners were able to hear directly from those who have 'been there, done that', without much of their original context being lost in translation. It also provided brief, but useful, information on how surrogacy in the UK works and the legal restrictions currently in place.
The interviewees shared their first-hand experiences of surrogacy, with a good mix of both the positives and the downsides of the practice. The surrogate mothers shared their reasons for wanting to act as surrogates for someone else, highlighting the emotional reward they experienced from being able to help out those who needed surrogacy to have a child. They discussed their common understanding of how they knew from the outset that the child does not belong to them, and how they tried to avoid emotional attachment with the baby. In one instance, an interviewee described her experience of aborting a fetus diagnosed with Down's syndrome, upon the request of the intended parents.
Listeners were also able to hear what the intended parents had to say on surrogacy - mostly why and how they choose to undergo surrogacy, and how it affected them. The legal prohibition on commercial surrogacy in the UK was also highlighted, making clear that advertising or paying for surrogacy is a crime. However, several interviewees commented on the weak legal protection offered to those who undergo surrogacy, describing the current position in the UK as 'all about trust' (surrogacy arrangements are not legally enforceable in the UK). The programme interviewed a woman who was conned into paying £1,200 to a prospective surrogate who then vanished into thin air upon accepting the payment, showing how the legal restrictions on surrogacy in the UK can work more as a curse than a blessing.
While most of the episode consisted of interviews, it was far from a purely informative radio show, presenting various ethical dilemmas for listeners through intriguing questioning. Catrin Nye excellently structured her questions in a slightly provocative manner to get listeners to consider both sides of the story more thoroughly. For instance, when a surrogate mother said she chose intended parents based on their physical appearance and educational level, Nye asked whether this is a little 'superficial', prompting the surrogate to give her side of the story in defence.
She also asked an intended parent whether she thought that the surrogate mother was a tool of pregnancy, and a couple who went to India for surrogacy if they thought commercial surrogacy in countries such as India and Thailand exploits vulnerable women. The round-up at the end, however, was presented as neutrally as possible, providing listeners with sufficient information to contemplate the issue and ultimately take their stance.
All in all, The Report's episode on surrogacy is one worth listening to. It also serves as a useful reminder to prospective intended parents of the importance of being informed and the need to abide by legal provisions, with advisory services in the UK available to provide support. More importantly, it shows how the UK is in need of a better legal framework regulating surrogacy, and may help to raise public awareness on the issue to push for further legal reform.