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Surrogacy and Inequality

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"Surrogacy and Inequality"

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Dana Goldstein commented on the first person account of Alex Kucynski’s outsources pregnancy in the most recent New York Times Magazine:

Yet there’s no mistaking that Hilling and Kuczynski come from vastly different worlds. Hilling is small town America to Kuczynski’s Manhattan; she is pink fleece to Kuczynski’s little black dress. The divide between them is brought home by an accompanying photo of Kuczynski standing in the yard of her lavish colonial in Southampton, New York, holding her son. Behind her, standing at attention and wearing a uniform, is Margo Clements, whom the caption tells us is Kuczynski’s “baby nurse.”

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Hilling, I’m sure, had no baby nurse to help raise her three kids. And while, at least according to Kuczynski’s narrative, Hilling enters into surrogacy cheerfully, happy to help an infertile couple, it’s hard to miss the underside to this story. Inequality and trouble paying for basics — like a college education — push some women to carry other women’s pregnancies. Unless this inequality is addressed, bearing wealthy women’s children (and the children of wealthy gay couples) will become some of the most financially rewarding work available to low and middle-income women, further cementing their identity as primarily reproductive. I believe surrogacy should be regulated and legal. But I don’t want to live in a country where women turn to surrogacy in order to pay their own children’s college bills.

It seems to me that the issue in this realm to really keep one’s eye on is the international domain. Even very rapid economic growth in, say, India will still leave it the case that there are hundreds of millions of Indian women who are dramatically poorer than well-off first-world women for quite some time yet. Kuczynski paid Hilling $25,000 for carrying her fetus which is a decent chunk of change in the United States but over six times per capita GDP in India. And there’s just no realistic prospect for closing these kind of global wealth gaps on a rapid time frame. When you think about the kind of difficulties that Mexicans are often willing to endure for a shot at low-wage, unpleasant jobs in the US service economy then I think you have to assume that there could be a lot of people who’d be eager to make thousands of dollars carrying another couple’s fetus if there were a regularized, legal way to do so.

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