Surrogacy has been in the news lately via various celebrities, most recently Camille of the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. This alternative to adoption has become a popular choice for celebrities and others with means. But it’s not as accessible to the average couple struggling with infertility. Finding a surrogate and managing the relationship is often difficult and complex, and the fact that surrogacy isn’t even legal in a number of U.S. states doesn’t help. Then there’s the cost: U.S. surrogacy fees can run up to 200,000.
A blooming industry promises to make the process easier and more affordable: Companies like PlanetHospital claim they can cut the hassle and price of the surrogacy experience and provide the same result (a baby). How do they do it? Just like all those other businesses looking to cut overhead: Overseas Outsourcing.
PlanetHospital is one of a number of new companies dedicated to global reproductive project management. With these “Baby Concierge” services, clients can create what the companies call a “World Baby” the result of a sperm donor, egg donor and gestational surrogate from three different continents, none of whom have ever met. Arrangements like these would be nearly impossible to procure independently. And the price is right as well. PlanetHospital’s services are relatively affordable when compared to high end domestic surrogacy fees. The companies fees reportedly run from about $32,000 to $68,000.
But the appeal of these services isn’t just financial. Poorer foreign surrogates have fewer rights and little recourse in the transaction. This translates to less risk of the surrogate trying to claim the child as her own after birth—a huge anxiety and psychological obstacle for those considering surrogacy.
The business is rife with complications and controversy: the “India Package”, for example, offers an egg donor and four embryo transfers into four separate mothers. What happens if all four embryos successfully implant? Couples decide how many pregnancies to carry to term. And “we don’t judge”, says PlanetHospital founder Rudy Rupak. There can also be legal issues; occasionally, babies born (and bred) internationally are denied passports temporarily.
There are moral issues as well. In countries where poverty is so rampant, free will has a different meaning, and market rates for surrogacy seem exploitative in comparison. Women in India, for example, are paid the equivalent of $6,000 to carry a child to term. The same loose rules that make overseas surrogacy more appealing to international would-be parents make it less protective of the surrogates. And in a culture where poor women have very little power, it’s impossible to know whether the choice to carry a stranger’s child is being made by the woman herself or by a man to whom she is subordinate.
As baby engineering becomes more and more commonplace, it’s unsurprising that it would spark entrepreneurs looking to optimize the process… and the profits. Meanwhile, Americans are increasingly embracing a multicultural ideal of beauty, with icons of mixed origins topping the most envied/lusted-after list. (It doesn’t hurt that a combination of backgrounds encourages coloring that works well on high definition TV.) For couples who aren’t able to conceive or carry pregnancies to term, the ability to design a baby—a custom combo of ethnicities— is a very different thing than adopting an existing child. I’m not sure if it’s better or worse, but I have to say I have a bit of a conceptual hard time with the whole third-world baby factory concept, especially after reading this incredible thing about what it’s like to be a surrogate, written by a thoughtful U.S. surrogate who was very much engaged in the process. But then, I try not to judge.
Read more about this in Robin’s post on Strollerderby.
Here’s the Wall Street Journal’s video expose on PlanetHospital: