Gift Surrogacy, and Motherhood
LIKE MANY OTHERS, my interest in the moral and legal problems concerning surrogate motherhood was initially provoked by the Baby M. controversy. Since most of the discussions I read focused on the moral and legal ramifications of the practice of commercial surrogacy under a legally enforceable contract, I gave little thought to gift surrogacy. My unreflective assumption was that it was benign compared to commercial surrogacy, perhaps even a laudable practice.
My moral reservations about gift surrogacy were triggered by overhearing some family gossip about a relative in India, who bore a child for her infertile sister. Although the act was regarded as praiseworthy by those who told the story, I was disturbed that the arrangement was to be kept a "family secret." This incident led me to reflect on the fact that both sisters were middle-class housewives who did not work outside the home and how this made it easier for one's pregnancy (and the other's lack thereof) to be concealed -- making it possible to pretend that the infertile sister had given birth. It occurred to me that being able to give birth at home rather than in a hospital (where the name of the child's biological mother would be recorded) made it possible for such exchanges to bypass state scrutiny; I worried about the implications of unregulated exchanges.
As I turned the family gossip over in my mind I made further connections that fueled my moral unease about gift surrogacy. I knew from conversations with workers at Indian adoption agencies that many Indians, higher-caste Hindus in particular, had reservations about adoption since adoptable children were unlikely to be of the "right" caste. I was reminded of arguments here, in the United States, about how it was the shortage of adoptable white infants that made com-