“Gilmore Girls’” Subtle Critique of Surrogacy

by The Center for Bioethics and Culture on December 2, 2016

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GUEST POST by Chaney Mullins

Spoiler Alert: This piece reveals several details of the four new episodes of Gilmore Girls recently released on Netflix.

Gilmore Girls, about single mom Lorelai and her daughter Rory, always stood out as the paramount mother-daughter show, so it always had a lot to say about motherhood. But the Netflix revival this Thanksgiving took questions of motherhood to a new level by raising the issue of surrogacy.

Single mom Lorelai had finally gotten back together with Luke when the series ended in 2007, and we were left hoping the two would have children together. In the new episodes we discover they have not, and are living together. In the first Netflix episode, they become worried they’ve missed out on more kids, and now being in their late 40s, look into surrogacy.

Their fertility clinic of choice is “Dynasty Makers,” which is run by Rory’s eccentric and overly-driven friend Paris. Paris’ path since the series ended sent her to medical school and apparently led her to Dynasty Makers. She is also getting a divorce, horribly insecure and immature, and altogether unhappy.

“You know how this works?” Paris asks Lorelai in her office. “Uh, we look through there and pick?” Lorelai replies. “Give me that,” Paris snaps, grabbing away a literal binder of women. “Bargain basement breeders. I’m not letting any of those bottle service bimbos carry your baby. No. For you, I pull out the prime meat.”

Paris whirls out a screen to show off women and promises discounts even though she admits, this costs “a lot.”

When Luke misunderstands the surrogacy process as requiring him to actually sleep with the surrogate, Paris replies, “That’s a sick thought.” (With Lorelai being too old to use her eggs, it is true that Luke would be joining his sperm to another woman’s egg, but in a laboratory.)

Paris continues to rank women, placing military wives as “the cream of the crop.” She describes motherhood as full of worry that a child won’t be healthy or pretty or smart enough, or may end up at McDonalds. Paris concludes their meeting by promising to send “a DVD of my top picks.”

With Luke unconvinced, Paris steps up the marketing by visiting him at his diner. As she barks at two potential surrogates she’s brought into Luke’s Diner to put on display, she is heard on the phone saying, “No, there is no return policy. What’s she going to return? It’s a baby.”

She hangs up and continues her pitch to Luke: “I’m the Pablo Escobar of the fertility world. I move the best product . . . Jill and Jane are two of my top breeders.”

“Excuse me?” is Luke’s reply. Paris marches out, leaving the girls and instructing them to “close the deal.”

Paris and Rory later visit Zach and Lane’s house, and seeing their twins, Paris asks, “who did your work?” Paris expresses disbelief at the idea that Lane “just had them.” We can only assume that Paris’ own twins, who we later meet and learn aren’t close to their mother, were born of a surrogate too, an interesting factor in Paris’ own troubled relationship with motherhood.

In a later episode, when Rory is out of work, directionless, and desperate, she vents to old flame Jess, suggesting jokingly that perhaps she could earn money by becoming one of “Paris’ surrogates” since “she’s always liked my teeth.” That is if she hadn’t already “aged out.”

After all this, Luke and Lorelai do not choose surrogacy, mostly because Luke seems confused and uncomfortable. But the whole thing is as unappetizing to the viewer as it is to Luke himself.

If you’re having a sudden flashback to Mitt Romney’s faux pas expression “binders of women,” you are not alone. It’s desperately uncomfortable when Paris discards these binders in “favor” of women ranked above them as “prime meat” and “cream of the crop.” Her system of ranking women and her worries that children will grow up with even the slightest imperfection are, unfortunately, part and parcel of the surrogacy industry. But the value of a life should never be measured in these terms! The idea that she would seek out Rory for her teeth! A DVD of top breeder picks! This is capitalism at its worst.

At least Paris didn’t think Luke should sleep with other women. But it is worth contemplating whether moving conception to the lab makes moral the ancient, once-accepted Abraham-Hagar surrogacy method, merely by removing the sex.

Paris’ phone call about a “return policy” raises the specter of the bitter legal battles of the world of surrogacy. Her self-comparison to a drug lord reduces babies to a commodified product—by her own words. And there is a disturbing sense that Paris controls, orders, and even possesses the young women who are her surrogates.

Rory’s outburst further reveals surrogacy as something women do only when they feel desperate, a money-making scheme that Rory had the luxury of avoiding once set on the path of book writing. But what of the young women who are not so fortunate?

From the perspective of the infertile couple, every fan deeply feels the pain that Luke and Lorelai didn’t have a child together. But fans are also given a good picture that Luke and Lorelai’s lives can be full and happy without one.

At no time in the show do we get the impression that the writers actually think surrogacy is wrong. Yet the picture they paint may make some think twice about it. Really, who wants surrogacy when the worst parts of Paris are endorsing (and selling) it? Though you feel slightly sorry for Paris, you are also left fuming at her flagrant disregard for her own children and for the humanity of “her breeders.” Maybe it’s easy to regard the off-color comments as Paris simply being Paris. But it does make you wonder, with crazy Paris running it, if there is something off with the industry itself.

Ironically, a friend had been talking with me about surrogacy mere hours before we watched these episodes. He had listened well but had no real issue with the practice. After watching, he said he could understand better what I had meant in my determination to #StopSurrogacyNow.

It’s probable that other fans—even those once unfamiliar with or sympathetic to the idea of surrogacy—may also find in Gilmore Girls more of a subtle critique than an endorsement of surrogacy.


Chaney Mullins is a graduate of the University of Virginia with a degree in Sociology. She is currently Development Coordinator at Divine Mercy Care, which supports women’s healthcare and educates on life-affirming medical practices, including ethical approaches to infertility treatment.

 

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