Global Relational Dilemmas and Commercial Surrogacy

Tuesday, July 15, 2014: 9:00 AM
Room: F204
Oral Presentation
Deborah DEMPSEY , Sociology, Life and Social Sciences, Swinburne University, Hawthorn, Australia
Commercial surrogacy continues to be illegal in a number of developed Western countries such as the UK and Australia due to concerns about the exploitation of women and children. At the same time, commercial ART clinics patronized largely by Western clients (many from Australia and the UK) have flourished in developing countries such as India and Thailand due to the more lenient regulatory frameworks and the lower costs of services for intended parents.

This transnational commercial use of reproductive technologies is generating a range of what I call ‘global relational dilemmas’. These include the creation of stateless and parentless children when mismatches occur in countries’ laws, impediments to children born of these procedures to obtain knowledge of their biogenetic or gestational origins, and concerns about how to facilitate connections between intended parents, surrogates and gamete donors across considerable cultural and socio-economic divides.

In this paper, which builds on Viviana Zelizer’s notion of ‘relational work’, and Jennifer Mason’s concept of ‘tangible affinities’, I argue that the heavily defended distinction between ‘commercial’ and ‘altruistic’ surrogacy in some Western countries such as Australia hampers thinking through creative solutions to the global relational dilemmas generated by international surrogacy. Based on empirical social research into surrogacy use by Australian gay men, along with analysis of Internet-based sources such as surrogacy blogs and websites, I explore the relational and kinship work performed by clients, managers and clinicians in commercial surrogacy settings. This is with a view to thinking through what might constitute sustainable transnational practices in family formation through commercial surrogacy that respect the human dignity of the children born, surrogates, gamete donors and intended parents.