Surrogacy as an Iceberg: 90 Percent Below Water

The 2015 US Surrogacy Conference was held in San Francisco on September 26. Attendees were greeted by a series of representatives from surrogacy agencies (based in the US, Mexico, and India) who sought to assure them that although surrogacy can be a trying process “not for the faint of heart,” it is often a tremendously rewarding “journey.” Psychologists, lawyers, and physicians similarly celebrated the quest for children via third-party reproduction.

The audience at various panels ranged from about 15 people (mainly for presentations pertaining to international surrogacy) up to 50 for popular presentations such as The Psychology of Surrogacy and Pre-Genetic Testing & Embryo Transfer Decisions. A substantial portion consisted of male same-sex couples, and they were the target demographic for most presenters. Both at booths describing services and during presentations, images of happy babies, pregnant bellies, and glowing (often same-sex) families were unavoidable. Happy families are, after all, the “happy ending” that surrogacy is designed to attain.

I came to the event not because I was considering hiring a surrogate, but because of a range of questions about commercial surrogacy that I haven’t seen widely considered. Who is served by the “happy ending” that’s so widely advertised, besides parents who want families? The assumption is that babies born from surrogacy arrangements will have loving parents, who expended time, effort, and money on their creation. What about babies who may never know the truth of their origin, or who may experience consequent health risks that are currently unknown and consistently understudied? Surrogates who say they experience great joy after seeing the family they helped to create certainly seem to benefit.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.