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'Women's bodies aren't simply containers'

The Local · 5 Mar 2013, 12:20

Published: 05 Mar 2013 12:20 GMT+01:00

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Sweden's medical ethics council (Statens medicinsk-etiska råd, Smer) wants to allow surrogate motherhood, but in our view its report leaves too many questions unanswered.

Our organizations think that all types of trade in women's bodies and children should be prohibited.

Surrogate motherhood is a serious crime against women's human rights.

To become pregnant and to give birth are among the most dangerous things a fertile woman can go through. Apart from the mortality risk, women can end up suffering preeclamsia, Graves' disease, depression, blood clots, or incontinence, among other serious ailments.

It is impossible to predict what the physical and mental effects of a pregnancy will be.

New research within epigenetics also shows that the child in a woman's belly is affected by her, even if they are not genetically related. If a surrogate suffers high blood pressure during the pregnancy, the child will run a high risk of developing cardiovascular problems as an adult.

A pregnant woman will never simply be a container. She will affect the child she carries, regardless of who provided the egg and the sperm.

Surrogate motherhood is a commercial contract. It means negotiating away the right to your body, as well as the care of, and contact with, the child.

The people who ordered the pregnancy and the clinic will often exercise full control over how the woman lives during the pregnancy.

This is true both for commercial and so called "altruistic" surrogate motherhood.

The medical ethics council leaves many questions unanswered in its recommendation.

What are the legal consequences if a contract is entered into between sisters or friends?

If that sister or that friend runs into complications during the birth, if the surrogate mother has to have a Caesarean that risks her chance of future pregnancies, if the child is born with a disability - who will pay for the after care for mother and child?

Who is legally obliged to deal with the consequences?

Even when a woman carries a child for a close friend or relative without remuneration there is a contract between them. There is no way to monitor the social dynamics between a person or a couple that is yearning for a child and the woman whom they ask to carry it for them.

We have seen, for example, that in England, where altruistic surrogacy is allowed, there is no way to make sure pressure is not applied on the would-be surrogate to accept the request - in terms of gifts, money or other types of persuasion.

Who is to determine whether a friendship is healthy and whether the parties in it are equals?

Even when the woman has voluntarily become a surrogate, the fact remains that she gives up the rights to her own body.

Yet another question that the council doesn't answer is the link between commercial and altruistic surrogate motherhood.

Research shows that demand for international "baby factories" goes up in countries that allow altruistic surrogacy. In other words, when a new phenomenon becomes the accepted order of things and demand goes up, the commercial trade in women's bodies in poorer parts of the world also increases.

Regardless of how surrogacy is regulated, it opens the door for viewing women and children as goods, and to regarding women as containers.

Overall, the global trade in living organic matter - women and children - has not been examined properly.

The Swedish Women Doctors Association and the Swedish Women's Lobby are therefore against allowing surrogacy in Sweden.

Story continues below…

We refer to the UN's Declaration of Human Rights as well as the convention on women's rights in taking this stance. It states that nation states should guarantee women's rights to their own bodies and actively work against all trade of women.

We also support the European Parliament’s resolution from 2012 that establishes that surrogacy is a serious problem that exploits women's bodies and their reproductive organs.

Surrogacy is an expression of one of the oldest patriarchal thoughts that exists in the world - that a woman is expected to make herself available and that the female body is a tool to be used by others.

It is regrettable that some people who want children cannot have them. Yet regardless of how strong that longing is, having children is not a human right.

The limits we should place on the desire to have children should be drawn at the trade in human bodies.

That Sweden would legalize the trafficking of women and children is unacceptable.

Mia Fahlén, Swedish Medical Women's Association

Gertrud Åström, Swedish Women's Lobby


This article was originally published in Swedish in the Svenska Dagbladet (SvD) newspaper. English translation by The Local.

The Local (news@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

15:11 March 5, 2013 by Issybelle
Totally agree. If you want a horror situation that unfolded on in the US, look no further than the front of CNN.com this morning.

17:41 March 5, 2013 by BackpackerKev
Hypocrisy again.

Surrogate motherhood is a serious crime against women's human rights is complete BS.

The fact that you would make something that is a Woman's choice and deny her the OPTION and CHOICE of becoming a Surrogate mother IS against a women's human right. It works boths way.

If you allow it, or disallow it has EXACTLY the same impact on the human rights, but Allowing it actually gives a woman a CHOICE, where forbidding it DOES NOT GIVE A CHOICE and that is in breach of human rights.

"Women's bodies aren't simply containers" ? Well that is down to the woman to determine that not the government, not other people, not society. If a woman would like to be a surrogate, it is within her human rights to MAKE THAT DECISION HERSELF!!!!

This is such a negative and close minded article that only focuses on one perspective.

To the above comment, the lady who became the surrogate should never have entered that contact when the contract involves something she can not morally agree with. She went into the contract thinking Everything would be 100% ignoring the clauses that went against her moral judgement and sods law, or naivety put her in this predicament. The contract was poorly written.
21:37 March 5, 2013 by Issybelle
The contract wasn't poorly written. It acknowledged that "in the event of fetal abnormality" that the surrogate would terminate the pregnancy. The surrogate reneged.

I am not in favor of forced abortion (even worse then denying surrogacy in my opinion) but the fact is, the surrogate was motivated by $$$ and made that her primary motivator in even considering abortion if they'd pay her more.

If there was a situation where a surrogate was a sister or close friend or associate of the couple wanting a child and did it with expenses covered but no other compensation, then I'd say that surrogacy would be a better idea. As a mother of childbearing age, if my brothers' wives couldn't carry a child, I would do that for them so long as medical expenses were covered. However, the surrogate in the CNN story did it as a way to make extra money/ends meet. How is that really any different than a woman offering her body in other ways (ie prostitution) to make a living? Not very, in my opinion.
23:28 March 5, 2013 by grainofsand
i absolutely agree with # 2

where the line be drawn with the government controlling a women's reproductive rights?

i'm not sure of the laws in Sweden but in the U.S. men can donate sperm for money (and women their eggs), did anyone think about the psychological repercussions of knowing you have children being raised somewhere by unknown people.

and to all those health risks, i doubt the egg donor would not be providing adequate healthcare for the surrogate everyone wants a healthy baby.

And the phrase that Sweden is legalizing "the trafficking of women and children" in my opinion likening surrogacy to some type of slavery is a gross misinterpretation of the selfless act growing a human being for someone else (regardless of monetary gain or familial relation)
08:41 March 6, 2013 by BackpackerKev
Here are just some things that are blatantly wrong with this article and the view of the writer.

"Surrogate motherhood is a commercial contract. It means negotiating away the right to your body, as well as the care of, and contact with, the child. "

This is 100% incorrect. A Contract is just that, a contract between both parties that have been AGREED by both parties. A Contract can be as Flexible as both parties want it to be and contain whatever both partied agree upon. Many contracts actually INVOLVE contact with the Surrogate Mother because that child is adopted, and will be told as so, some parents want the child to have a relationship with its biological mother, Surrogate Mothers may or may not use Donated fertilized Eggs, they may just use donated sperm by one, or maybe both of the parents(if they are a gay couple)

"Even when the woman has voluntarily become a surrogate, the fact remains that she gives up the rights to her own body. "

Wrong! See 1st paragraph.

"Regardless of how surrogacy is regulated, it opens the door for viewing women and children as goods, and to regarding women as containers."

Speculative and Subjective to the Individual. I would hope the slither of humanity would not make this the case, but there are always exceptions, just like there are psychopaths and murderers. And whether or not it is regulated the people who view women such as this, THE LAW is the LAST THING they care about and probably trade on the Black market anyways.

"A pregnant woman will never simply be a container. She will affect the child she carries, regardless of who provided the egg and the sperm. "

What is it? Is she a container or not?

Such a narrow-minded article it frustrates me that people are so naive to all the variables that happen in reality but only focus on the most negative of all cases, I really hope these ladies don't actually make decisions for other people.
18:21 March 6, 2013 by grandmary
I am disagreeing with this article very much. My husband and I are very wealthy and want to have babies. But what if I have a baby and my body loses its shape. Then what? What if my husband doesn't want me after I lose my shape. So we will hire a poor girl to have the baby. Because it is socialist in Sweden and very few people have a lot of money by the standard in my country it should be easy to find a poor girl and pay her to have the baby. She can do the laundry too because we have house guests and some of them are very dirty. I do not want to touch there clothes.
20:21 March 6, 2013 by AquamanUK
Swedish women's egg's are the crème de la crème of what the world WANTS in having a child. Changes to archaic/draconian legislation is well over due!

A person any where in the world (if female or male) should be able to pay MARKET PRICE for Swedish Eggs, and if a man with nil sperm count, semen from a Swedish Man.

Why should Swedish Women have to travel to the UK or USA to sell their eggs when they could easily do it in Sweden?

The legislation that the woman who gave birth to a child is it's mother is very 19th Century!!!!

In the Modern world a birth certifiate should have SIX Categories:

Egg donor

mtDNA donor

sperm donor

DNA of Egg donor

Legal Father

Legal Mother

if the world can not agree to a basic birth certificate on all SIX aspects - the nation is stuck in the STONE AGE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
20:32 March 7, 2013 by garbagecanman
Not one compelling thought in this entire piece. Just hyperbole and slogans. Pregnant women's bodies are containers? Educated women who make a free choice are being exploited? These women are very arrogant and patronizing.
21:08 March 7, 2013 by ragdoll

I agree. These women do not speak for me. I can do whatever I want with my body. For them to call pregnant women's bodies containers just shows how much respect they truly have for women. They are so wrapped up in their hatred of the fictitious "patriarchy" they would throw us under the bus as they fight their imaginary war. They write about the UN guaranteeing women's rights to their own bodies as they try to tell us what to do with our bodies. These women have no more right to tell me what to do with my body than does the UN, the "patriarchy" or anyone who is not ME.
21:30 March 7, 2013 by Phillynilly
Are these the same people who think that women that work in porn are exploited? Despite the fact that the women what work in porn do so out of their own decision...
19:37 March 8, 2013 by Mark S.
The article claims to be against surrogacy, but if some of these supporting arguments are valid against surrogacy, then they are also valid against other things that women might do.

Surrogacy involves risk of death and "other serious ailments". Driving a car or truck involves risk of death or other serious ailments. Construction workers are sometimes killed or disabled on the job. Can a woman make that decision for herself?

Surrogacy is a commercial contract that dictates what you do with your body. This is true of nearly every job. Employers routinely dictate how you will perform your job, safety procedures that you must follow, even how you dress. Can a woman make that decision for herself?

A woman may only choose to do it for the money. I only do my job for the money. Can a woman make that decision for herself?

The human traffic argument sounds weak. With all the people involved in a surrogacy, a the woman being forced to act as surrogate would need to cooperate. She would never say anything to *any* of the doctors or nurses involved. She would provide false identity documents to the medical facility. She would lie when asked "are you doing this voluntarily?" There could be plenty of opportunities for her to reveal the coercion, if you structure the system so that the state does not penalize her for it.
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