Available from the Centre for Bioethics and Culture
Subclass of Women??' provides both thought-provoking
and uncomfortable moments but ultimately fails to convince as an anti-surrogacy polemic. Produced by the Centre for
Bioethics and Culture, the short film features interviews with four
surrogates, who all had bad experiences carrying children for someone else.
Heather, for example, is a young woman who, after having had children
of her own when young, decided to earn money by carrying children for people
with fertility issues. Despite having one surrogate pregnancy, which she recalls
as 'the best experience ever', she describes the traumatic second surrogacy,
where the embryo was found to have abnormal brain development. The parents wished
to terminate the pregnancy but Heather's Christian values led her to go against
The case highlights how surrogate pregnancies can run into problems
when the surrogate and intended parents' wishes clash. Despite feeling sorry
for Heather, who clearly had connected with her disabled child, I felt uneasy
listening to her describe the earnings she had received for each pregnancy - her
surrogacy was something of a career, not an act of compassion.
Meanwhile, Cindy and Gail described experiences carrying someone
else's child for personal reasons. Gail decided to carry the children for her
brother and his gay partner using donor eggs. However, her relationship with her
brother went badly wrong, resulting in him first abandoning her during the pregnancy
and then trying to prevent her from having any access to the children.
I felt a lot of compassion for Gail, as I believe carrying a
child for a friend or family member is something a lot of people would consider.
But once again the problem seemed to stem from a lack of regulation - there was
no contract between the surrogate and her brother - rather than the surrogacy
Apart from the interviews with the surrogates, the film also
features opinions from a selection of 'experts', who all criticise aspects of surrogacy.
These experts include Nancy Verrier, author of the book 'The Primal
Wound', who is opposed to any use of surrogacy as she believes a child
forms with the mother - surrogate or not - when in the womb. Verrier relies
on notions like the idea of 'cellular memory' - the ability of the fetus' cells
to remember their mother's womb after birth - for which there is no scientific
The concerns voiced by Mona Lisa Wallace, a lawyer for
the National Organisation for Women, are more
valid. She was strong on the 'commercialisation of life' angle. Commercial
surrogacy - where women can genuinely be paid as surrogates and not just
receive a limited amount to compensate for expenses, as in the UK - is legal in
some US states, Mexico and India.
All in all, 'Breeders' was a mixed bag. On the one hand, the
film flags up important issues like over-commercialisation of surrogacy where
mothers (in one definition, at least) are reduced to 'gestational carriers'. On
the other hand, many of the issues described in the film appeared confused,
conflating problems caused by a lack of regulation with concerns about surrogacy per se.
As such, there is currently no compelling evidence to suggest that acting as a
gestational surrogate (carrying the egg of a donor) has a negative effect on
the child. The real challenges lie in forming effective legislation and ethical
frameworks within which surrogacy can happen.