Surrogacy in China: Lessons in Candor and Cruelty

by Christopher White, Ramsey Institute Project Director on August 4, 2014

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A recent New York Times article highlights the continual rise of surrogacy—this time in China.

Surrogacy is illegal in China, but that hasn’t stopped entrepreneurs like Huang Jinlai, founder of Baby Plan Medical Technology Company, from navigating his way around the law to profit from Chinese couples desperate to have children. For the past few years, Baby Plan has recruited surrogates from places like Vietnam and Thailand who have uprooted themselves from their home countries and their own families in order to serve as surrogates.

The conditions in which these women live are shrouded in secrecy, but if the experience of one of the surrogates interviewed for the article is any indication of the broader circumstances, there’s reason for concern. When one of Baby Plan’s surrogates needed to return home to Vietnam for the funeral of her father, she was forbidden to do so as they did not want her to miss her hormone treatments.

“That was a mistake on our part,” Mr. Huang acknowledged. “But if we had let her go home, the client family would have lost their child.”

A consistent criticism of the surrogacy industry is that the women hired as surrogates are viewed merely as vessels or carriers for the intended parents, with their own psychological and emotional health minimized or intentionally ignored. This certainly appears to be the case in China—and unfortunately, it’s not an isolated incident.

Just last week, the Daily Mail reported on the case of Baby Gammy who was born via a Thai surrogate and abandoned by his intended parents in Australia when they discovered he had Down syndrome. In this particular case, the surrogate refused to abandon or abort the child and has agreed to care for him.

During my recent travels to India, in which I surveyed the booming surrogacy industry there, I was constantly reminded of the lack of concern for the emotional health of the surrogate mothers—both during and after pregnancy. The tragic irony of surrogacy is that women are expected to treat the child they are carrying for nine months as their own child by getting proper rest, maintaining strict nutritional standards, etc., yet as soon as she gives birth every effort is made to distance her from the child and to minimize any maternal attachment. Consider this:

But to be safe, Mr. Huang said, the company hires women to visit every day to make sure the surrogate does not form emotional attachments to the baby they are carrying, a common development. “Our liaison staff tells them every day that the baby in your stomach isn’t your baby,” Mr. Huang said. “A nice way of putting it is emotional comfort; less nice is brainwashing.”

While Mr. Huang’s candor is a welcome change, the emotional cruelty at play here is hard to ignore. And indeed, we shouldn’t.

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