For the second time around the American surrogacy fair of Men Having Babies landed on Belgian soil. This time it took place in a slightly more upscale venue: the ground floor at The Hilton in Brussels became the stage where 220 potential customers from 12 European countries were welcomed.
Like last year, I was present. Me: the first in its generation to provide adults of a semi biological child. It was the start of a lucrative business when fertility doctors discovered that the techniques used on a pig farm could also be useful for infertile heterosexual couples. From the 1950s Belgian wombs were being filled with the sperm of unknown men. Fertility techniques improved and not much later they tapped into new target groups: single women and lesbian couples.
Branding unwanted childlessness as a discriminatory injustice several branches of the LGBT community advocate for gay men and transgender women to have a biological child of their own.
Last Sunday they almost had everything on offer: language interpreters, gadgets, price lists, different formulas, the do’s and the don’ts, but also straight-to-your-heart-and-into-your-wallet-sales pitches of companies that are able to connect anyone directly with eggs, surrogacy and lawyer agencies just to make ‘a dream come true’. Lawyers handed out the metaphorical route map how to by-pass laws to get the purchased child(ren) ‘legally’ in your own country.
This year Men Having Babies also presented an ‘ethical framework’ to convince opponents of their sincere and honest intentions. They claimed to be a non-profit organization aiming to provide tools and means for gay men to pursue their right to have a biological family. The fact that their biggest sponsors happened to be those fertility centers and law firms that pitched to the 220 attendees wasn’t considered as a conflict of interest to them.
Surrogacy was described as “the act of a woman, altruistic by nature, gestating a child for another individual or couple, with the intent to give the child to the intented parents at birth”. Personally I would describe it as the outsourcing of a personalized pregnancy that aims the trading/adoption of a donor conceived to those who ordered it whilst paying a (expense) fee.
New terms were launched to keep the transactions or act as business-like as possible: the surrogate mother was called ‘a carrier’, the egg donor ‘a genetic material contributor’. Some agencies also offered a ‘Money back or refund’-option (no kidding) and ‘Multiple Cycle Package’-deals.
Several times they advised against adoption because nowadays there are not many young children to adopt anymore and the probability that the mother decides to keep ‘your’ child is a risk to high to take.
Surrogacy, yet again, brought salvation. Strongly advising to use the eggs from another woman than the surrogate, the birth mother is most likely to give up the baby. But also the enforceability of the 50-page contract offers the insurance that you can take the child with you after it is born. The contract even allows payments to be ceased if the surrogate does not comply with the terms of the contract. I also must mention that many contracts have a non-disclosure clause: it prohibits women to speak publicly about any malpractice they endured.
A lot of time and attention went to the reassurance of conceiving an as healthy child as possible. Gender selection is included in this ‘service’. My consternation was huge when a fertility doctor asked the audience who would chose to abort a child with a defect. Most of the hands went in the air. For the record: abortion can also be enforced by contract.
A part from ‘I want a child as healthy and perfect as possible’ the welfare of the child was – as it is in Belgium – limited to the legal uncertainty that is created when there is conflict in legislation between lineage and trying to claim legal parenthood. Only 2 times and very briefly in the surrogacy booth camp the interests of the child regarding ancestry and right to identity were mentioned, but they were immediately countered by economic and practical arguments.
It is striking and very hypocrite to take note of the fact that for the second time in a row certain Belgian politicians seek the limelight of the media to express their personal disgust regarding this event. Yet they refuse to realize that similar practices are taking place under a so-called white label that uses the same ethical framework to justify it. Apparently something is ethical when the prices are affordable, transparency is not needed and fancy brochures are not being handed out.
An ethicist once told me that something is not ethical when someone’s action harms another. The intentional creating of human begins depriving them not only from fundamental and vital information about themselves, but also from having a meaningful relationship with their biological family, is in my view the only ethical framework that needs be applied when considered whether or not to allow surrogacy and donor conception.
As disgusted as one might be by the American event, it is time to reflect, and to acknowledge that for decades we have been violating human rights on own soil when we enabled the commercialization of plan B-parenthood at the expenses of those who are conceived just to fulfill a personal desire of an adult.
, DC and chairman of the Belgian DC organization ‘Donorkinderen vzw’s