CONTACT: Stanford University News Service (650) 723-2558
Does surrogate motherhood reinforce inequality?
STANFORD -- Gender equality is the best argument against surrogate motherhood, a Stanford University moral philosopher says. Control over female sexuality and reproduction has historically reinforced women's second-class position in society, said Debra Satz, an assistant professor of philosophy who opposes contract motherhood. Surrogate motherhood perpetuates a long tradition of the use of women's bodies by others, and reinforces stereotypes about women's role in the division of labor, she said. Although some economists have argued that surrogacy allows women to better themselves economically by selling their reproductive capacities, Satz said it deepens, rather than ameliorates, gender inequality. Satz is studying the issue as part of a larger project on the ethical limitations of the market. Because technology is making it increasingly possible to market human products, she is examining whether there is a consistent policy in the area. It is legal, for example, for men to sell their sperm and women their eggs, but it is not legal to buy and sell body parts such as kidneys. Surrogacy "pushes at the boundary of what we think is acceptable to commodify," she said, and for that reason provides a good case study. A free-market approach - that "within limits set by justice, you can do what you like with your own body" - leads to support both for surrogacy and for abortion rights. An approach emphasizing the sacredness of life and the mother-child bond supports opposition to both surrogacy and abortion. Satz said her focus on gender equality means she opposes surrogacy and supports the right to abortion. Abortion is an equality issue, she says, because restrictions on it disadvantage only women - endangering their lives through illegal abortions. Satz rejects some of the standard arguments against surrogacy. Those who see a "unique bond" between mother and fetus often cite that bond in opposing surrogate motherhood, as well as legal abortion. Others argue that surrogacy does not take into account the best interests of the child, a claim Satz rejects on two grounds. First, she said, surrogacy is so new that there isn't much research on the children born as a result. In addition, the best interests of the child do not always take precedence over other considerations, she said. For example, although many studies indicate that divorce is often bad for children, couples are still allowed to end their marriages. Or, she said, even if it could be shown definitively that children of interracial marriages suffer a great deal of discrimination in America, society would not now outlaw such marriages. The practice of selling reproductive labor raises the question of what is a mother, and the law is unclear on this point, Satz said. In recent cases of contested surrogacy contracts, motherhood has been defined in terms of fatherhood, that is, in terms of genetic ties to the child, she said. "If a woman contributes nine months of reproductive labor and during that time perhaps bonds with the child, is she a mother or not?" Satz asked. "Women can do something men can't do. Men have no reproductive labor to contribute; they have genes." -mass-
This is an archived release.
This release is not available in any other form.
Images mentioned in this release are not available online.