Whose Choice? What To Do When You're Expecting Someone Else's Kid

For most people, it is pretty obvious what you would do if your employer just stopped paying you. But what happens when your job involves renting out your womb?

Recently, surrogate mothers from across America have unfortunately been forced to grapple with this issue. Two companies that paired infertile couples with surrogate mothers, and oversaw the subsequent payments, have stopped paying both their surrogates and egg donors. The money in question was supposedly placed into trusts, which may quite simply no longer exist. One of the firms, SurroGenesis USA, was flooded with complaints from families and responded by sending out an email that read: "We want you all to know that after failing to receive satisfactory answers regarding the holding companies' financial status, and in the interest of protecting those dependent on receipt of funds… we have contacted the authorities and requested an investigation."

For many parents, this is a crushing blow. SurroGenesis' fees include a starting fee of $12,000 and payment to surrogate mothers of at least $18,000. Parents were also asked to pay certain legal fees, and provide money for maternity clothing, medical care and other expenses that add thousands to the bill. The money they gave to SurroGenesis was set up in trust funds administered by the Michael Charles group. SurroGenesis says that the money is now gone, and with it, the life savings of many expectant parents. Not to mention the income of more than a few pregnant women.

The surrogates are now faced with a tough decision. Do they go through with the pregnancy now that they are no longer being paid? Or is it time to abort the fetus and find a new job? Slate's William Saletan explores this issue, and ponders the ethical questions surrounding aborting another couple's child. He writes:

Surrogates aren't mercenaries. But they do need to be paid for their sacrifices. With every week that passes, they endure more of pregnancy's burdens. They submit to exams, tests, and other procedures. They take on serious medical risks. They forgo activities that might harm the fetus. They lose the ability to commute to and work at other jobs. They have bills to pay. At least one abandoned surrogate says she has received an eviction notice.

If you stop paying your surrogate, she needs to quit and find another job, just like any other worker. But surrogacy isn't like any other job. The only way to quit a pregnancy is to abort it.

Saletan prays that the surrogates will continue, selflessly, to go on with the pregnancies. He even suggests that sympathetic readers donate money to the broke surrogates (although since the article was published, this has been changed). Saletan's piece focuses on the moral issues that surround this case, and while he does conclude that it is the surrogate's body, and thus the surrogate's choice, Tracy Clark-Flory at Salon sees the issue as less of a question. Clark-Flory has no doubt that it is up to the surrogate to choose when her pregnancy ends. She writes:

Like Saletan, I would love for these couples — who are victims of crime and should be paid major damages — to get the babies they have been anxiously anticipating, but it simply, painfully isn't their decision. I generally enjoy the kind of philosophical gymnastics that are part of Saletan's routine and, for that matter, any contrarian who can consistently set your brain aflame; I don't enjoy feeling led on by a politically motivated mental exercise, though. When Saletan asks me to picture myself in one of these anomalous and horrific situations, in which another woman is carrying my baby, it makes my heart drop, my stomach churn — and all those other clichés that convey absolute devastation. It doesn't, however, make me reconsider that most fundamental pro-choice principle: It's her body.

As Clark-Flory points out, this is not actually a new ethical question. She argues that Saleman is making the issue about the politics of abortion in general, which is something she wants to avoid. As a pro-choicer, there is no moral ambiguity here, just the simple fact: her body, her choice. She compares this situation to the situation of thousands of fathers who do not want their potential offspring aborted. And as Clark-Flory illustrates, despite the strangeness of the whole debate, it is essentially the same thing.

Fortunately, this philosophical discussion may wind up having no bearing on the lives of the surrogates or the couples that have been screwed over by SurroGenesis. According to Andrew Vozimer, a lawyer involved in the case, so far none of the surrogates have aborted or indicated that they were planning on it.

Money woes reported at firms involved in surrogate births [LA Times]
Fetal Foreclosure [Slate]
Mommy War: Surrogate vs. Bio [Salon]