Saturday, August 02, 2014

A workout for the mind and heart

This story makes my mind and heart start churning, along with my stomach:

From what I can gather, looks like an Australian couple put their seeds inside a Thai woman and agreed to pay her to be their womb.  The Thai woman had twins, one with Down's syndrome. The parents asked the surrogate to have an abortion; she refused on religious grounds.  The parents took the healthy kid and left the unhealthy kid.  The Thai woman takes responsibility for raising the Down's syndrome child but is looking for support for the child's congenital health issues, which she can't or hasn't gotten from the genetic parents.

First of all, it sounds like a thought experiment from an ethicist's textbook.  Bad guys?  Good guys?  There's plenty of indignation to go around.  The surrogate disobeying the wishes of the parents?  The parents insisting on an abortion for the surrogate?  The parents taking the good kid and leaving the bad kid?  The surrogacy system for allowing this circus to even happen?

As a thought experiment, I feel we have to remove the Down syndrome aspect from the equation for a moment. If these parents wanted the abortion simply because they only wanted one child and the surrogate wanted to bring both children to term because of her beliefs, would the parents feel the same ease at taking one and leaving the other? Would they feel the same ease at providing no support for their kin? Would relinquishing the second child constitute abandonment or is it some sort of fiduciary prerogative of the parents?

This situation has so many issues going on at the same time it's hard to figure out what we're actually talking about. Is it the exploitative nature of surrogacy? The rights of the genetic parents? The rights of the surrogate? The rights of the children? Breaking of a contract? Abandoning your own genetic lineage? Abandoning a child with a congenital disorder? Somewhere in all of this is the very clear sense that regardless of the contracts that are signed with one another, if you put your genetic material into someone else's body, you will have to live and die by that surrogate's decisions. You can point at stipulation 4 of the contract that says the surrogate has to eat right, or stipulation 9 that says if the child has a defect that it has to be aborted, but find me a court that will enforce what the parents want on the surrogate's body? Force her to eat well? Force her to have an abortion? One way or another the parents are tied and beholden to that surrogate's freedom to do with their body as they please.

We can then say that the surrogate must take responsibility to keep the child if the parents want the child aborted. But doesn't the question follow: if a father wants an abortion but the mother doesn't want one - do we say that the father has no responsibility to contribute to the welfare of the child just because they didn't want it? No, I think we come down on the side of saying, whatever the reasons that allowed this living thing to come to being, if you are genetically related to it, that responsibility remains yours.  Doesn't matter whether you wanted it or not, sick or healthy.

The laws that are paramount are not the contractual obligations or understandings. The laws that stand out most starkly are our expectations as humans that 1) the surrogate (or anyone) can do whatever with your own body that you want and 2) that if you share your genetic line with someone, you have an obligation to them, even if that obligation is simply leaving them in the custody of someone who can care for them.

To my mind, if the kid had no health issue and the parents somehow chose to leave their kin with the surrogate who wanted it, they would have done their duty by leaving the kid with someone who would care for it. Would have been strange to break up twins, but as long as they can both grow up and be taken care of, then everyone is satisfied.  When the health issue is added, my problem with this situation is that leaving their kid in the custody of the surrogate does not meet what I would think is a valid standard for a minimum investment of care in your kin, due to the surrogate's inability to meet the child's health needs.

But it isn't easy and the feelings of entitlement, abandonment, commodification of human life - they are blurring the line between where my mind starts and where my heart begins. My love and I are staring ahead at these questions, as we begin to build our family.  I hope we have better answers.


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