By Charlotte Talbot
‘Broken Bonds: Surrogate Mothers Speak Out’ is a collection of stories describing the injustices that women face when undertaking surrogacy. The stories are from around the world, written in first person by women involved in both commercial and altruistic surrogacy. The editors hold the view that surrogacy should be ended globally, with the stories providing a convincing argument that the current regulations do not do enough to provide protection and allow for systemic abuse of surrogate mothers and the children produced.
The book describes how commercial surrogacy throughout the world demonstrates shared themes; being hidden away from society, being “kept” in such a way as to provide optimum children for intended parents, and being treated in a way that aims to reduce any of the woman’s input onto the child. This is specifically seen in India with “surrogate homes”, where not only are the mothers’ “movements restricted” but they are “overfed” and “restricted” to religious music. Additionally, they are treated in a way that ensures they are not “spoiled”, which assumes that these women should be less like autonomous adults and more like children. Lastly, there is financial limitation on how much the mothers make from the surrogacy agreement, with the aim that they “return for another surrogacy”.
These stories suggest that commercial surrogacy is a way for women to be reduced to nothing more than their uterus. The women are abused and stripped of their autonomy for a set price in order to provide other people with a child. This leaves the reader wondering how it can be ethical to allow production of a genetic child in such a manner that it abuses the rights of another person.
Lack of legal protection
Surrogate mothers also tend to lack any form of legal protection, with the book describing how contracts appears to be there to protect the intended parents, not the surrogate. The lawyers drawing up the contracts are usually provided by the intended parents, leaving the surrogate mother vulnerable whilst intended parents can breach contracts without repercussions. Shockingly, one USA judge is quoted as saying that the surrogate mother “signed away her rights” upon entering the surrogacy agreement. This reinforces the notion that the desire for biological children is being given precedence over another person’s basic rights.
Once again, the anecdotes leave the reader feeling like the surrogate is treated as a faceless vessel to provide others with biological children, as well as questioning how medical professionals can ethically participate in surrogacy if it risks harming the human rights of another person.
Throughout the book, there are subtle tones of eugenics. This includes women who can be surrogates but they do “not want her eggs”, to those who are forced to carry pregnancies where there is sex selection. Furthermore, it is shown that when babies are no longer healthy, they may no longer be wanted and some women may be forced into abortion. This has the effect of minimising the value of the life of a child, aiming to ensure that only healthy children are delivered.
Medical professionals, the courts and all those who work with children have a duty to always protect the best interests of a child. Nonetheless, the book describes instances where the surrogates raised concerns about the appropriateness of the parents or the behaviour of the parents, but the surrogate was often left powerless or unheard. Equally, there are anecdotes throughout the book where concerns for child welfare were raised but dismissed because it was seen that the surrogate mother was just trying to prevent the children from going to the intended parents. This suggests that throughout the practice of surrogacy, the interests of the intended parents are prioritised above that of the child.
‘Broken Bonds: Surrogate Mothers Speak Out’ is a harrowing and uncomfortable read for anyone, bravely highlighting the multitude of abuse, harm and suffering that many women undergo during and after partaking in surrogacy. .
Some might say this book should have demonstrated a more balanced approach to surrogacy. However, it is important to recognise that, if not for this book, the perspectives of these women may not have been brought to attention due to oppression by those who have a vested interest in surrogacy. Hence, this book does in itself provide balance to discussions surrounding surrogacy, which are often dominated by intended parents and where the devastating consequences on the surrogate mothers are often hidden.
Overall, this book is vital for future intended parents and medical professionals involved in surrogacy to allow them consider new perspectives, including how the rights of the surrogate mother may be abused and how such abuse can be prevented.
Charlotte Talbot is a 4th year medical student at St George’s (University of London), who has intercalated in Women’s Health at King’s College London.