Before embarking on my current exploration into transnational surrogacy and the use of Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART’s) more broadly, I had no real conception of the potential these technologies held. I knew that parents could select traits that desired their children to have, but this was only because I have personally encountered this trend. A couple I know have recently become the parents of a set of twins whose characteristics they had chosen (including their sex, eye color, height, etc.) prior to the implementation of their embryos into their biological mother using in vitro fertilization (IVF). Although hearing that this level of choice in offspring was alarming, I did not stop to consider all of the far-reaching effects this kind of technology can have. After doing some research, it seems that ART’s have the capability to create a dystopian reality in which babies are produced as a result of selective breeding based on socially constructed realities instead of scientific fact. Considering that I personally know about half a dozen people who were born using IVF (surely more that I am just not aware of), it seems strange that I am only now learning some of the significant negative effects this process can have on the women and children involved. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (2012), an infant born of IVF is two to four times more likely to have birth defects than a naturally conceived baby. This is absolutely shocking to me, for this seems like a very big risk to take, especially considering that there are so many children without birth defects who are desperately awaiting adoption. Furthermore, when IVF is talked about in the media and in informal social settings (in my experience), it seems that these significant risks are not discussed or even acknowledged. This points to the strength of the desire parents have to obtain children who are biologically related to them, and the social construction of biological-relatedness as an utmost priority. Furthermore, in the case that the eggs used in an IVF procedure are harvested from a separate female (other than the women who will carry the embryos to term), the egg donor must undergo hormonal stimulation, and the long-term implications of this process for women’s health is still unknown (Swerdlow and Chavkin, 2017). It seems preposterous that doctors and their associated clinics are allowed to market egg ‘donation’ to college students without first having an understanding of risk (Jordan, 2013). In the case of surrogacy, women who are implanted with embryos from a third-party, are at an increased risk of incurring gestational hypertension and preeclampsia (Klatsky et al., 2010). Finally, and what surprised me most, was that although research is still ongoing, there have been studies which show that the gestational environment has the potential to alter a fetuses epigenome (Swerdlow and Chavkin, 2017). I am not sure what shocks me most, that surrogates can have a genetic impact on the baby they give birth to, or that ART’s have been so widely used despite a lack of conclusive evidence in regard to its long-term effects. Clearly more research needs to be done before these technologies can be employed safely and ethically. It is preposterous that the transnational surrogacy, which completely depends on the use of ART, flourishes globally despite a lack of real data on the effect of these processes.
Jordan, Emily Rose, ‘An Awful Alternative to Work-Study’, Columbia Spectator, New York, 27 March 2013, <https://www.columbiaspectator.com/2006/11/20/awful-alternative-work-study/> [accessed 17 April 2021].
Klatsky PC, Delaney SS, Caughey AB, Tran ND, Schattman GL and Rosenwaks Z, ‘The role of embryonic origin in preeclampsia: a comparison of autologous in vitro fertilization and ovum donor pregnancies,’ Obstetrics & Gynecology 116: 6 (2010), pp. 1387–92.
Swerdlow, Laurel, and Wendy Chavkin, ‘Motherhood in Fragments: The Disaggregation of Biology of Care’, in Miranda Davies (ed), Babies For Sale? (London, 2017), pp. 19-32.