C: Anastasiia Chepinska (Unsplash)

The evil contradiction in the surrogacy bill

Consider the following, courtesy of the Sunday Business Post:

Surrogacy arrangements in other countries will also have to meet a range of healthcare and human rights standards before they are approved by AHRRA. The conditions are likely to lead to severe limitation of the number of countries that are currently accessed for surrogacy services.

This will in effect mean a divergence between the domestic and international regimes, with commercial surrogacy being approved abroad and banned at home.

Any engagement in a commercial surrogacy in Ireland will result in criminal sanction. Any engagement in a commercial surrogacy abroad that has not been pre-approved by AHRRA will also result in a criminal sanction.

That is a nice, dressed up, way of saying a very simple thing: The Government intends that it should be completely illegal to engage in commercial surrogacy (paying an unrelated woman to carry your baby) in Ireland, but completely legal to engage in commercial surrogacy overseas once you get Government approval. Which, by the way, you will.

It’s quite something for an Irish Government to declare in effect that commercial surrogacy is dangerous and exploitative and harmful to women – which is the reason for the ban – and then to declare in the next breath that it is perfectly legal for Irish people to put foreign women through something that is dangerous and exploitative and harmful to women.

This contradiction is to be obscured, obviously, with that favourite technique of Governments: Regulation. The idea being that while commercial surrogacy overseas is legal, it is very tightly regulated. This is supposed to make you feel better about it. That’s literally the whole point: To let people go on television and say “well of course, this is very tightly regulated” so that you feel better about it.

But if the thing can be very tightly regulated overseas, why can it not be tightly regulated here in Ireland, as well? It’s literally one rule for Irish women, and another for the poor women in the third world.

My own position on this, as a childless person, is that the Irish Government is banning commercial surrogacy at home because it knows full well that the practice is flat-out immoral, and it knows that Irish people know this too.

Consider what we are asking of the women involved. Asking them to bear the risk to health and life of bearing a baby. Asking them to sever the emotional bond that every mother in nature has with her child.

And asking them to give up all legal rights, to the extent that they may never see the child they bore again. All in return for a few thousand measly euros.

Words like evil are not expressions that I ever toss around lightly, on these pages, but this time, the cap fits.

It’s funny, in a way, is it not? How our national self-image as a colonised and exploited people doesn’t come into our thinking when it comes to surrogacy, and the sight of wealthy Irish couples trooping off to sub-Saharan Africa to buy a woman’s womb for a few grand. If British couples had done this to Irish people during the famine, we would have a national memorial to the lost babies, and Sinn Féin would call it genocide.

And by the way, what an intellectual contradiction: This is the same Irish government which prosecutes people for the crime of buying sex. But isn’t that (even if you agree with the ban, as yours truly does) just a lesser version of the same offence? In one case, you’re paying to rent a woman’s body for 30 minutes or an hour. In another case, you’re renting it for nine months. In both cases, you are paying to satisfy your own physical or emotional needs. And in surrogacy, the baby itself is not so much a human being, as a product. You are literally buying another person.

Because that’s the other thing: A child born of surrogacy – particularly commercial surrogacy – is condemned by those who have bought it never to know its own mother. This is in a country which rightly mourns with those sold into adoption by the nuns, who never got to know their mothers, either. We are consciously inflicting that same fate on a new generation, and calling it progressive.

Look, being unable to have children is tough. For some of us, it is a life sentence of pain. In some extreme cases, it can drive people to madness: There have been many cases of parents actually stealing babies from hospitals recorded. It is not necessarily a logical thing, simply a primordial desire too powerful to overcome. People who care about this stuff tend to, of necessity, be fanatical about it.

But babies are not, and never have been, products. The ties between a mother and a child are not something that it should ever be legal to permanently break with a nice contract, drawn up by Dublin lawyers and plonked in front of a desperate woman in Africa. If you were making a movie about this stuff, the nice Dublin lawyers representing a rich Irish couple would not be the good guys, and nor would the couple themselves.

They’d be the villains. The colonisers. The exploiters. Because that’s what they are.

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