What Surrogate Mothers Reveal about What Makes the French Tick


History leaves its mark on geography; t

hat much is obvious.

Less obvious are its echoes in our

opinions and attitudes, which can

be heard, unwittingly repeated,

in modern form, whenever we talk

about politics or values.

The historian Diarmaid MacCulloch

has observed, for instance, that

the former Protestant strongholds

of southern France, which suffered

horribly under the persecution of Louis XIV,

were among the most radically anti-clerical

during the French revolution.

The region later became a hotbed of

French communist resistance to the Nazis,

"and even in the late twentieth century

they were still delivering a reliable vote

for French Socialism."*

It's odd how often oblivious we are to

the fact that our opinions form inside

an invisible framework, which History constructed.

Yet there are the Southern French,

voting socialist, in part because of something

Louis XIV did.

Ideology is all around us and we don't

notice it, shaping our views, and our toilets.

 Of course, ideology also shapes the way we confront new technologies.
In France, lawmakers are in the process of renewing the French bioethics law,
which must be revised periodically to keep up with changes in science.
One of the more controversial points under review is the legal ban imposed
on gestational surrogacy,
what the French call gestation pour autrui. Surrogacy of any form has been
against the law in France since 1994,
and is in fact illegal throughout Western Europe, except for a few places with a significant Protestant tradition—Great Britain and the Low Countries—that allow
 it under tightly restricted conditions.
It's not a complete list: neither the Scandinavians nor the Germans allow it.
Still, it looks like France will be
the first country out of the Catholic tradition to legalize the practice, and break the pattern.

The French Senate has already signaled

that some tightly regulated form of surrogacy

may be allowed in the 2010 draft

of the bioethics law.

Calls for its decriminalization have been

on the rise here, in part because

of the plight of a few French parents,

who have been unable to win legal recognition

for their children conceived abroad

in countries where surrogacy was legal.

As hubs of commercial surrogacy make plain,

like the town of Anand, in the Gujarat state

of India, gestational surrogacy

has become a global industry.

Many in France still harbor reservations.

And in a way, surrogacy is like a cultural

Rorschach test.

Picking through the ethical dilemmas it raises,

as the French see them, is as good

a method as any for understanding

what makes the French tick.

To start with, there's the issue of exploitation,

where already French and American

views diverge.

Anytime someone provides a service out

of desperation or for lack of an alternative,

they can't be said to have entered

into the transaction freely.

This is the main reservation that Americans

tend to have about surrogacy.

We worry whether individuals are free

to act as they choose.

So long as a transaction isn't immoral,

often in some religious sense,

we tend to think people should be

free to do as they choose.

Many view prostitution as immoral,

for example, but even if you set aside

religious objections to it, it may still be

considered objectionable,

since it is not often entered

into willingly, except maybe in Nevada.

The truly libertarian might counter that no one forces women to become surrogates
(a fact of which, incidentally,
we can't be one hundred percent
certain), and that, furthermore,
people perform life-threatening
work all the time for money.
They do have a point: in 2008,
fishing industry workers
in America had a fatality rate
of 129 per 100,000.
They faced this danger
for the privilege of making,
on average, $19,000 a year
according to the bureau
of labor statistics.
That's a heck of a lot less,
when adjusted for the cost
of living, than the $7,500
or so that an Indian surrogate
can hope to make
in nine months—enough
in India to buy a house
or send a child to college.

In France, by contrast, safety is not

the overriding concern regarding surrogacy,

though it does figure in the debate.

Nor do they worry whether the transaction

can ever be fair in a contractual sense.

Quite the opposite—the exploitation,

according to the French view,

lies in the indignity of the transaction itself.

In fact, one thing advocates and opponents

alike can agree upon is the corrupting

influence of money.

Both would like to see it taken out

of the equation altogether.

Last May, for instance, the Conseil d'État,

France's highest administrative court,

strongly advised against altering

the bioethics law to allow gestation

pour autri.

And the essence of the problem

for them, likewise, was money.

It is a fundamental principle of French law

that the human body is inviolable,

and no part of it can be treated

like property.

In its decision, the Conseil d'État reasoned

that since altruistic surrogates usually

receive some form of stipend,

and since the nature of the relationship

between the intended parents

and the birth mother is necessarily

contractual, then, in essence,

surrogacy is a transaction,

which treats the child like

an object and the surrogate

mother's body like a commodity.

This is a concern echoed by other

French critics, such as

philosopher Sylviane Agacinski,

who view the practice as degrading,

by definition.

"To solely use [a woman's] belly is

contrary to dignity," she told

the left-leaning website Rue89,

"even if no money changes hands,

because it places the very existence

of one human being at the service of another."

The issue is whether, as the American

philosopher Michael Sandel has argued,

certain goods or social practices

can be degraded if bought

and sold for money, or "marketized."

Often Americans tend not to perceive

how the voluntary commercial exchange

of objects may diminish them

or tarnish them.

Though often we are unable to imagine

the things we truly hold sacred ever being

bought and sold.

But consider the reaction if folks somehow

learned that John Roberts had purchased

the office of Chief Justice of the Supreme

Court in a backroom deal (which obviously

he hasn't, so don't take this out of context.)

The point being, it's easy to see how

certain transactions, in and of themselves,

can corrupt an institution,

just by virtue of turning it into something

that can be bought or sold.

What is truly ironic is how close this

all brings the rabidly secular French

to that group of Americans with

perhaps the strongest sense of the sacred,

that is, fundamentalist Christians,

who also happen to be deeply divided

over surrogacy.

Of course, American Christians

who do object to it tend to do so

on explicitly biblical grounds.

They just don't sublimate their

quasi-religious view of the womb

beneath a Marxist term

like "commodification".

Yet ultimately, surrogacy is likely to win

out in France.

And the reason why is because

telling hopeful parents that they can't have

children seems cruel, especially when

richer parents can afford to pay

for the procedure outside of France.

As a woman in the French journal L'Express,

whose sister bore her child,

wrote in a letter in response

to Sylviane Agacinski:

Yes, we need a legal framework

to prevent abuses and scams.

But bearing children is not

about money.

It's a gift of love between

sisters and friends.

It's normal to reward someone

who comes to our aid

and improves the quality

of our life.

In our consumer society, money

is the only way to compensate

someone so that they

too can live better.

Emotional politics, indeed. What's more,

charges of inhumanity carry a lot

of weight in France.

So, in all likelihood, surrogacy

will be decriminalized, if not legalized,

by next year.

Perhaps it's for the best.

After all, the moral of 20th century French history

is that rigid ideology serves

no good end, when it's inhumane.

*Diarmaid Macculloch.

"Reformation : Europe's House

Divided, 1490-1700." Penguin

Books Ltd, September 2004.

Special thanks go out to Dr. Eileen Servidio,

President of the American Graduate

School of International Relations

and Diplomacy, for her invaluable

help with French law.

Link here

             J-L K.
Procurement Consultant
Gsm:    (250) (0) 78-847-0205 (Mtn Rwanda)
Gsm:    (250) (0) 75-079-9819 (Rwandatel)
Home:  (250) (0) 25-510-4140
    P.O. Box 3867
  Kigali - RWANDA
    East AFRICA
Blog: http://cepgl.blogspot.com
Skype ID: kayisa66

No comments:

Post a Comment