It would be a moral and medical disaster if Britain became a center for surrogacy | Catherine Bennett

OWith its torrents of blood, animal howls, vaginal hilarity and creepy taste in terms such as ‘cord prolapse’, ‘ovarian torsion’, ‘placental abruption’, the TV adaptation of Adam Kay’s film This will hurt did not please everyone.

Still, while some of us were unlikely to appreciate such jokes as Kay’s “same shit, different vagina,” others finding her scenes of chaotic maternity staff and actively mashed bowels disturbing, you might also see this ugliness as a potentially helpful patch to endure, often officially fostered myths about the desirability of all-natural childbirths. This trend has likely contributed to tragedies like those first covered up at the Shrewsbury and Telford NHS trust. Only the intervention of bereaved mothers, like the BBC Panorama reported, shed light on the hospital’s preventable deaths. Senior Midwife Donna Ockenden, who will soon release her final report into the scandal, has previously said Panorama on the maternity unit’s pride in its low-intervention births. “Low cesarean section rates were a price.”

Added to this, and the many personal accounts that have followed the NHS’s recent acknowledgment – after coercing countless women into complying with its Caesarean avoidance targets – that ‘normal’ childbirth can be profoundly dangerous, unpredictable and terrifying, Kay’s misogynistic capers may even be well-chosen to educate another group of influential officials. The Law Commission would still prefer, judging by its proposals to facilitate surrogacy in the UK, to view childbirth as a routine, albeit sometimes risky, procedure after which, at the convenience of all concerned , docile participants can be expected to emerge unscathed. You could easily mistake these advocates for loyal students of late childbirth guru Sheila Kitzinger with her mantra that pregnancy is not a disease, if her related precepts on euphoric childbirth didn’t conflict. with their own project for a larger and more effective baby. the handovers.

To that end, the Law Commission has proposed, in defiance of a 2018 UN rapporteur’s warnings about baby trafficking, that surrogacy clients become the baby’s formal parents before birth. Two weeks, they estimate, would be enough, thereafter, to allow the biological mother to change her mind. Such a change of heart on surrogacy is far from uncommon, according to figures reported by the Ukrainian Ministry of Justice, but, as with so much about surrogacy, there is no has no reliable data. The Law Commission’s confidence in the UK arrangements appears largely based on a small study of local altruistic surrogacy likely to be unrepresentative of any new paid release.

Later this year, the commission will issue recommendations informed by wider consultation, although affirmation might be a better word, given that body’s apparent penchant for contributions from parties with known emotional or professional investment in the process. ‘industry. In contrast, the lawyers gave eight pages out of more than 450 to ethical objections to, for example, the instrumentalization of female bodies and the coercion of poor women. A near-European ban on the practice was also ignored. Instead, titled their consultation paper Building Families Through Surrogacy, the lawyers begin: “As society changes, surrogacy is becoming more commonplace. So, you might say, is online fraud.

Even given the biased assertion that “surrogacy is an accepted form of family building”, the commission had to recognize that it has been applied so imperfectly that the exploitation of women in Thailand, Nepal and India led to its ban. And although they wrote before Covid and now the Russian war on Ukraine exposed more extreme risks of cross-border surrogacy, the commissioners, visiting Ukraine, witnessed dehumanizing practices that the industry don’t bother to hide. Expectant parents will receive, for example, this account of Ukraine’s reproductive attractions from a successful group called Growing Families: “Surrogate mothers tend to come from lower social classes, but live in clean, modern homes and are [sic] employee. »

As Russia invades, it is estimated that there are hundreds of Ukrainian surrogates carrying babies from foreigners. In one of the many stories that dwell on the feelings of intended parents, the director of Growing Families expressed concern for clients “desperate to get their embryos out of Ukraine.”

But what might seem like compelling reasons to reconsider surrogacy will only strike its advocates – or Britain’s legal commissioners – as yet another reason to improve the domestic offer. In the UK, it is argued, female incubation can be better regulated. On age, for example, the commissioners suggest that 18 is old enough for a woman to sell her womb to more affluent consumers – or to have it done for her by a higher-paid professional. There is no proposed need for an existing child, no maximum number of pregnancies. “We are careful, they explain, not to discourage people.

What if a surrogate mother (the commissioners don’t like to add the word mother) is left not only permanently changed, but physically or mentally disabled by childbirth? Infertile? Dead? In a section on compensation whose very blandness is more offensive than any Adam Kay contribution, the commissioners accept that the kind of risks described in This is going to hurt could damage or even kill her British surrogacy recruits. Like paying surrogacy clients, they clearly saw women’s injuries and the occasional hysterectomy or death as a price to pay for this unessential service. As the UN rapporteur put it, warning against the sale of babies, “there is no right to have a child under international law”.

There are a few months left before the law commissioners issue recommendations. Even if they remain determined to trivialize the ethical concerns reflected in the quasi-European ban on surrogacy, to ignore heartbreaking case histories and to classify other “feminist” objections as therefore marginal, they still have time to watch Ben Whishaw scream, over another woman’s dysfunctional body, “I can’t do this, this woman is going to die and it’s all my fault.” It could, so to speak, be them.

Catherine Bennett is an Observer columnist