The Ethics of a Surrogate Mother: What is Surrogacy's Social Responsibility?

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Gestational Surrogates earn more than most new teachers in the US -- so why call them victims? William Houghton, director of Sensible Surrogacy, presents the pro-surrogacy perspective in a new interview.

Surrogacy often offers great benefits to all parties, so why label the surrogate as a victim?

You wouldn’t say ‘That poor woman is forced to be a teacher’ or ‘she's forced to be a nurse’. Why are we so quick to label the surrogate mother as a victim even though she often benefits greatly from the arrangement?

William Houghton, founder and director of Sensible Surrogacy, responds to ethical arguments against the practice of Gestational Surrogacy in a newly published interview in the Sensible Surrogacy Guide. The interview is aimed at detractors on both the right and the left who publicly condemn surrogacy as being exploitive or callous toward women.

A typical surrogate mother in India or Ukraine receives compensation of about $14,000 USD. That’s more than the average starting salary or an elementary teacher in the USA. The comparison is based on an analysis by Sensible Surrogacy from data provided by Surrogate compensation overseas is the equivalent of about $45,000 USD in the United States when adjusted for the local cost of living. In comparison a new elementary teacher can expect to earn just $41,000 USD per year. Dental technicians make $31,000 USD annually, and a sales associate makes $21,000 USD.

“It’s hard to argue that a woman is being exploited based on that compensation,” says Mr. Houghton. “Or that being a surrogate doesn’t present a meaningful financial opportunity." The full text of the interview is available on The Surrogacy Guide: What is Surrogacy?

Surrogate Mothers provide a tangible service that requires significant effort, Houghton points out. Their service adds clear value to society and has an altruistic component as well -- plus many women experience great satisfaction from being pregnant. That’s in addition to the significant compensation that surrogate mothers receive. (A thorough review of he challenges and benefits of a surrogate mother can be found at the Sensible Surrogacy Guide.)

So why is it that groups on both the right and left consider surrogacy to be inherently exploitative and unethical? Mr. Houghton argues that there is an underlying bias against unskilled labor, and that women who perform unskilled services are often seen as victims, regardless of the actual facts of the situation.

“I hear someone say ‘Oh this poor woman needs to be a surrogate to support her family -- that’s exploitive’,” says Mr Houghton in the interview. But he argues that the statement is on its face prejudiced, starting from an assumption that being a surrogate mother is not a reputable service. “You wouldn’t say ‘That poor woman is forced to be a teacher’ or ‘forced to be a nurse’. Why are we so quick to label the surrogate mother as a victim even though she often benefits greatly from the arrangement?"

Other common arguments that Mr. Houghton addresses include the opinion that surrogate mothers inherently suffer because they are unable to retain custody of the baby. Also the popular argument perpetuated in the “Hand Maidens Tale” that surrogacy diminishes women to a second class role as “baby makers”.

"Not all workers identify 100% with the jobs they perform," says Mr. Houghton. "Why is it that we assume that women who take on the role of a surrogate have less sense of identity than any of the rest of us? A woman may be a surrogate… but she is also a mother of her own children, a member of her own community, and a unique person in her own right.”

Sensible Surrogacy is an ethical IVF & surrogacy consultancy and publisher of the Sensible Surrogacy Guide, which is the definitive source for how surrogacy works for childless couples. Since 2012 Sensible Surrogacy has advocated for affordable, complete and ethical surrogacy services through their overseas consultants and a network of medical and legal service providers.

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William Houghton

William Houghton