Once again, the issue of surrogate mothers has become a hot topic of debate. As infertile couples tell their sad stories, it seems difficult to reject their call for the deregulation of surrogate pregnancies. However, the question of how to go about meeting their needs without commercializing the female body is a difficult dilemma and involves some hard choices.
The issue of surrogate motherhood is not simply about a woman providing the use of her uterus. A surrogate mother also has to face many risks during pregnancy and delivery.
They include amniotic fluid embolism, ectopic pregnancy, infertility, entering a vegetative state, death, stillbirth, premature birth and giving birth to an unhealthy child.
There are also the problems of infections or death following fetal reduction surgery and multiple births. In addition to providing her womb, a surrogate mother devotes 10 months of her life, both physically and psychologically, and her whole family — husband, children, in-laws — are involved and deeply affected.
Apart from close relatives and friends and a few so-called charitable people, most of those who, knowing all the risks and difficulties, still decide to volunteer for the task mostly come from economically disadvantaged groups.
Since it takes at least NT$1 million (US$34,280) to employ a surrogate mother, infertile couples may rather hire a surrogate mother who minimizes risks, who is obedient and who does what she is told.
Therefore, the economically disadvantaged always seem to be the first choice. This means that it is very likely that Taiwan would get a surrogacy system designed for the rich that would give them special privileges and allow them to buy a service that might lead to the injury or death of someone else.
In a way, they might even buy the autonomy of the provider, thus turning a woman into a mere tool for producing children. This economic temptation would erode the human dignity of the economically disadvantaged.
As the income gap between the rich and less well-off continues to widen in Taiwan, a surrogacy system could lead to the exploitation of women. Should the current ban be lifted, putting healthy surrogate mothers at risk just to satisfy the desires of childless couples?
This is an issue that should be collectively decided by the public.
According to Taiwanese law, live organ donation is legal only among blood relatives within the fifth degree of relationship, and donations from so-called “charitable people” is illegal.
The law is based not only on respect for human life and dignity, but also to prevent exploitation that could result from selling organs for monetary gain in the name of charity.
That is how strict the nation’s regulations are when it comes to a situation when there is no other way to save a life.
Should looser regulations be adopted to satisfy the desires of childless couples who want a child by letting such “charitable” people function as surrogate mothers?
This is a serious question that society should think long and hard about.
Chang Hui-ju is deputy secretary-general of Taiwan Women’s Link.
Translated by Eddy Chang