A Drama in Action: ‘Rent a Womb but at what Cost?’

Scene One: The Backdrop

Change is the only constant. Evolution took humans from a hunch-backed species to one that stands upright, from broader jaws to narrower ones and, if we were to believe scientific findings, from a smaller brain size to a larger one. The species evolved and evolved from one huge scientific name to another. But three things that make humans what they inherently are remained unchanged – the body, the soul and expectations. If we are to believe religious and spiritual texts, the body and the soul are accompanied by the mind, but the mind begets expectations arising from desires, and hence for the sake of simplicity, just like an economist would do, we assume the mind to be our expectations. Therefore, even though humans evolved and changed in their physical form, one thing did in fact remain unchanged and constant, that is their expectations. 

Scene Two: The Groundwork

Drifting a little away from evolution and bringing ourselves to the present, societies are laden with a myriad of desires and expectations, more so than just their needs, and sometimes overstepping their wants. The sort of mindset embedded in a society’s head is that of the likelihood of certain outcomes, rather than a proven possibility of them to actually occur. Put in simpler words, the likelihood of someone getting severely hurt someday leads to families saving some money, the likelihood of earning profits leads to investments, and so on. This mirage of an outcome in the future leads to tremendous amounts of pressure in the society to do exactly what the society dictates and deems as 'fit' to exist. And society dictates – every married couple must have a child. 

Scene Three: The Curtain Raiser. 

Equating happiness with expecting a child, millions of couples resort to the method of surrogacy to have a child of their own. In simple words, surrogacy is a process wherein a woman carries and cares for the child in her womb, that is not her own, but she is willingly carrying for the intended parents who can’t carry a child of their own. Whenever the intended parents compensate the surrogate mother monetarily, it is known as ‘commercial surrogacy’, and otherwise, an ‘altruistic surrogacy’, usually done by a relative/friend. The legality of such agreements between intended parents and the surrogate mother are subjective to various countries and their jurisdictions on the issue. While some countries have banned commercial surrogacy altogether, some developing countries are hubs of surrogacy with an incremental flow of intended parents to these hubs to fulfil their desires. This form of a transnational surrogacy has opened way too many doors for intended parents to exploit and prey on the poor and vulnerable surrogate mothers who are in dire need of the money they could have potentially earned by putting their bodies up for use. 

Scene Four: The Highlight.

There hasn’t been a lack of debates around surrogacy and while most countries have spoken and passed laws in favour of altruistic surrogacy, there are still questions of whether it is ethical to commodify women’s bodies and the kinds of economic impacts attached with the legality of surrogacy. First issues first, the commodification of the bodies of these surrogate mothers is more than just an ethical question. Women who willingly opt to become surrogate mothers usually belong to the weaker sections of the society, which brings to light the kind of structural flaws existing in these developing economies that the women find it to be the last resort to put up their bodies to use in order to live from hand to mouth. Their livelihoods rely on this sort of money, and even when governments choose to ban commercial surrogacy to be able to curb the commodification of bodies, they don’t provide these women with a safety net, and hence their upliftment goes out of the question. In fact, for some, this is the only means of livelihood. For that, they have to go through so much emotional and physical labour and also have to change their entire lives’ priorities. Moreover, the fact that in a market, a commodity is taken from its producer and sold off to a consumer stands rather highly unethically true in this case, but it’s not the child being sold off here since the intended parents already have a right on it, but the gestational services of the surrogate being sold off as a mere commodity and as any other labour activity.

Secondly, the economic implications of the legality of surrogacy come with a deep understanding of how economics in general works. The kind of expectations talked about at the beginning of the article is as much part of economics as any other economic jargon. That is because expectations lead to desires and wants, which is when we as rational humans choose to make decisions that provide us with maximum satisfaction and utility. 

In any legal agreement, the two sides of parties always choose the kind of terms that provide the maximum utility to each of them. Naturally, everybody responds to incentives and here, the intended parents wish for a child while the surrogate mother wishes to obtain that sum of money that she needs for herself or her family. The enforceability of these contracts is rather highly pedestaled by these parties because both of them want their end of the contract to be fulfilled. This is when the aspect of exploitation comes into play when these vulnerable women fail to understand the nitty-gritty of such contracts, of which the intended parents, who are in fact financially stable, take undue advantage and get away with paying less to no amount of money to these surrogate mothers. For several small towns in developing economies, the money coming in from surrogacy is extremely essential for the survival of families, and with the rise in exploitation, they are not just left economically worse-off, but also emotionally. The kind of emotional labour that goes into bearing a child is also something that the surrogate mothers already go through, but with the money coming in, it is marginally easier for them to let go of this attachment and to place the welfare of their families above everything. But when they are stripped off of this money, it becomes all the more difficult letting go of the emotional burden of having done so much for a child and seeing it go for no good of their own. Altruistic surrogacy does them no good either because now the ambit to earn the smallest amount of money through this is also taken away from them.

Scene Five: Culmination

All in all, surrogacy as an activity ends up reducing women to their wombs, and ends up monetising not just their services but also the life decisions they made in order to be able to carry a child, not just once but as many times as their body permits and their conditions demand. For many women, the cost of surrogacy can be enormous and simply not worthwhile. For other women, this cost can be minimal in comparison with choices they prefer to have and which they value more. The kind of opportunity costs these women have to incur are way beyond any measurable financial costs.


Ishi Shrivastava

I am an inspired reader and writer who built this inclination since school days and took part in editorial teams to hone my skills as well as interest. I am also little bit of a good conversationalist.

The Pangean does not condemn or condone any of the views of its contributors. It only gives them the space to think and write without hindrance.