Riley Keough, daughter of Lisa Marie Presley and granddaughter of Elvis Presley, was recently interviewed in Vanity Fair, discussing her life, her health, and – as Buzzfeed highlighted – her surrogate-born daughter.
During the interview she praised the practice of surrogacy, and said that she chose it due to her medically-controversial chronic Lyme disease. “I think it’s a very cool, selfless, and incredible act that these women do to help other people. I can carry children, but it felt like the best choice for what I had going on physically with the autoimmune stuff.”
Riley isn’t the only celebrity to choose surrogacy. As Live Action News has reported, other celebrities to use a surrogate include Chrissy Teigen and husband John Legend, Nick Jonas and Priyanka Chopra,”The View” host Sherri Shepherd, and Paris Hilton among many others.
But the number of celebrities who pay a surrogate to carry a baby for them belies the dark side of the industry – it’s a game for the rich, where children are commodified, and pregnancy is for sale. The “haves” exploit the “have-nots” for the sake of acquiring a baby in an inherently traumatizing way.
Surrogacy results in an unnecessary harm to a baby
Decades of research show that the importance of maternal bonding with a child is deeply formative and problems with that bond can have ramifications into adulthood. We also know that because maternal bonding begins in the womb, adoption is a traumatic experience for newborns. In some cases, family separation is, sadly, unavoidable and adoptive families frequently seek out support if problems with emotional attachment arise later in life.
When it comes to surrogacy, a child is brought into being specifically to be given away from his or her birth mother with whom he or she has already formed the most intimate of bonds. Creating a child specifically to traumatize that child for the sake of an adult is a deeply unethical and selfish act, even if it is portrayed as “selfless” on the part of the surrogate mother.
As Live Action News reported, Khloe Kardashian was surprised by her experience of surrogacy, which was contrary to the narrative she had been told. “I felt really guilty that this woman just had my baby and I take the baby and go to another room and you are separated,” she said. “It felt like such a transactional experience because it is not about him. I wish someone was honest about surrogacy and the difference of it. But it doesn’t mean it is bad or good. It is just very different.”
Surrogacy is inherently exploitative
When surrogacy appears in headlines, it’s usually because a celebrity couple chooses to have a baby via a surrogate mother. It’s never because a rich or powerful individual chooses to BE a surrogate. Because of this, surrogacy is an imbalance of power – a couple or individual wields a tremendous amount of money to pay a woman for the use of her body — her womb. Far from being empowering, it is nothing short of misogynistic.
But if couples aren’t willing to pay top dollar, many third-world countries have booming surrogacy businesses. Until recently, Ukraine was the second most popular country for surrogacy tourism. After the outbreak of Russian hostilities, surrogate mothers were required to fulfill their contracts, leaving women stranded under Russian bombardment and newborns in limbo between their surrogate mothers and adoptive parents in other countries. The position was one of such intolerable inhumanity that Ukrainian politicians have introduced bills seeking to ban the practice for foreigners in the country, as the practice has increased since the Russian war.
Surrogacy is a profit-driven industry. It exists worldwide, and it targets impoverished and marginalized women in whatever country – India, Colombia, Israel, even in the U.S. where some military wives, unable to establish a career due to the high mobility of the family, seek to become surrogates for a financial boost.
In 2018, the United Nations Office of Human Rights held a session in which experts raised serious concerns about how the practice of international surrogacy ignores the human rights of the child and potentially feeds into human trafficking. Scholars, ethicists, and activists around the world have continued to condemn the practice.
Surrogacy involves the commodification of a baby
The right to a child is not an internationally recognized right, even though couples of considerable financial means frequently portray it that way. When they perceive those rights as being violated, or when anything goes awry with the baby, the adoptive couple feels entitled to make all the decisions. When one surrogate was diagnosed with cancer in the process, the surrogate fathers, a gay couple, demanded she have an abortion. When a baby was diagnosed with an abnormality, parents who wanted only a healthy child tried to force the surrogate mother into an abortion. These stories happen again and again. In other cases, the surrogate parents have abandoned the children.
What’s supposed to be a natural and symbiotic relationship between mother and baby becomes a conflict dominated by questions of money and power – it’s our baby, and your body is producing a product for us. The fundamental right of a child to bond with his or her mother gets lost in the mix.
Throughout the whole process, the rights of the baby are subordinated to the self-professed rights of adults who too often do not have the best interests of the child at heart. IVF babies have higher rates of complications – the kind surrogate adoptive parents have demanded abortions for – and lower birth weights.
Surrogacy’s sad and exploitative legacy is being camouflaged under the guise of something noble and “selfless.” But in reality, the practice of surrogacy is little more than a transactional agreement, in which money and goods are exchanged for the use of a woman’s body, and the traumatization of her child is overlooked.