The issue of surrogacy is back in the limelight with several recent cases on the subject. Firstly there is the story of a Singaporean gay man’s triumphant adoption of his own surrogate child.
Secondly the issue of a 45-year-old Singaporean man pleading guilty on Wednesday (Feb 20) to issuing erroneous testimonials and handing in counterfeit papers, so that he could bring two boys born via surrogacy from India into Singapore.
On Oct 10, 2014, the wife of the accused filed a police report stating that her husband had deliberately made use of bogus documentation regarding twin boys born from a Hindu surrogate and submitted them to the High Commission of Singapore in India.
The plot thickened when in 2015, the court obtained a DNA report revealing that the accused could not have been the biological father of the boys.
The baby trade – a global business
Children are any nation’s most valuable resource, but just like most valued resources, they are traded across borders. As more parents have adopted babies from overseas over the past decades, the global market for children has amplified.
The global industry of commercial surrogacy (a.ka. “reproductive tourism,” “cross-border reproductive care,” “reproductive exile”) is estimated to be worth billions of dollars annually.
The phenomenon depicts any travel to seek commercially provided assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs), which can include in vitro fertilization, pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, gamete procurement, or a host of other services.
Surrogacy provides women in developing countries with a life changing amount of money. For instance, in India, surrogates are paid $5,000 per child on average – the equivalent of 10 years’ worth of wages for a rural woman.
Surrogate motherhood is forbidden in many countries. However, poor regulation, most especially in Southeast Asian countries, along with sloppy border patrols and huge defenseless populations of poor working women have led and created opportunities for the practice to continue despite official prohibitions.
Legal and moral implications
The biggest issues that arise from commercial surrogacy include the exploitation of women and the commodification of children.
In Singapore, there are no specific laws that forbid surrogacy as an act. However, the Ministry of Health (MOH) has existing guidelines that ban assisted-reproduction clinics from carrying out the procedure. Guideline # 5.48 stipulates to the effect that AR Centres shall not carry out
a)The buying and selling of embryos, oocytes and sperm;
c) Selective fetal reduction;
d)Sperm sorting techniques in sex selection;
and e) Placing a human embryo in the uterus of another species for gestation under any circumstances.
Singapore on surrogacy
At present, surrogacy is banned in Singapore. Married men have gone to such great lengths to meet women overseas for the purpose of impregnating them and return home to apply (at a later date) for adoption of their surrogate children will have their applications evaluated on a case-to-case basis.
To date, the courts have granted the adoption of 10 children to married couples who used surrogacy due to infertility.
But according to PM Lee, surrogacy “is a complex issue with ethical, social, health and legal implications for all parties involved.” He noted as one of the complex issues to include is the exploitation of women and the “commodification” of children. These are “not trivial and warrant careful study,” he added.
PM Lee also cautioned: “Persons who are considering surrogacy should take this into account from the outset while making their decision; as such factors could have a significant impact on the child.”
The child with a price tag
The ‘product’ of a surrogacy transaction – the child — is where surrogacy diverges from prostitution. With surrogacy, people are no longer speaking only of a buyer and a seller but also of a third party, the child.
Therefore, in commercial surrogacy, the child is de facto turned into a product because with a few thousand dollars paid to the mother after delivery of the newborn baby, the new “parents” acquire the child and the surrogate mother surrenders all parental rights over that child.
It’s just like a seller of ordinary objects, once the object is sold, the seller ceases to have ownership to that object. With the money being paid, ownership has now been transferred to the buyer. In short, the baby is now a product, a two-legged commodity with a price tag hanging around its neck.
Is Singapore ripe for surrogacy?
Apparently, the unwillingness to accept or legalise surrogacy extends to other countries. This is because an arrangement for surrogacy creates a service that is transactional in nature, with the woman allowing her womb to be “for rent.”
Whether Singapore will modify its position on surrogacy remains to be seen.
With monetary and gender restrictions, surrogacy is frequently depicted by medical doctors, trial lawyers, future parents, and by surrogates themselves as a “win-win situation that has been viewed as advantageous to all parties involved since the needs of two distressed women are met.
Prospective parents go home with “their child” and surrogates go home with the money that allows them to take care of their own children and husband.
To many human rights advocates though, the benefits of surrogates are actually just an illusion as these have been created by a capitalistic patriarchal society that takes advantage of developing economies and underdeveloped countries.