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Radio Review: The Report - Surrogacy

8 September 2014
Appeared in BioNews 770

The Report: Surrogacy

BBC Radio 4, Thursday 21 August 2014

Presented by Catrin Nye

'The Moral Maze: Surrogacy', BBC Radio 4, Wednesday 30 October 2013

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.

15 December 2014 - by Sean Byrne 
Surrogacy has always posed serious legal and ethical questions of society, and will continue to do so for a while yet...
3 November 2014 - by Rebecca Carr 
'Not being able to have children can be a desperate thing,' says political journalist and commentator Isabel Oakeshott. After losing four pregnancies herself, Oakeshott came to a 'drastic solution': she was going to use a surrogate, and one in India at that...
18 August 2014 - by Professor Eric Blyth 
The Baby Gammy case has sparked worldwide interest and comment. The case highlights troubling issues that have been exercising the minds of some of us for some time...
18 August 2014 - by Dr Rosie Morley 
'Money can't buy you love but it can certainly buy you parenthood'. Or can it? Should it? And if it should, where and how should it be regulated?...
6 May 2014 - by Andrew Powell 
I've always been interested in the law related to surrogacy. Through the Pegasus Scholarship Scheme founded by the Inner Temple, I obtained a placement at a law firm in Los Angeles that specialised in surrogacy and fertility law. I was keen to see how commercial surrogacy operates within a regulated paradigm...
17 March 2014 - by Louisa Ghevaert 
A recent case made national headlines for being a 'do it yourself' surrogacy arrangement which ended in marital breakdown and legal chaos, but news reports did not fully address the complex issues raised in the case about the identity and best interests of the child...
30 September 2013 - by Dr Amel Alghrani and Dr Danielle Griffiths 
Surrogacy law is a mess and no longer fit for practice. As increasing numbers resort to the use of international surrogates or the 'murky waters' of the World Wide Web to find a surrogate, the law is relegated to cleaning up the aftermath...
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