By Sheela Saravanan.
The socio-ethical concerns regarding exploitation in commercial surrogacy are premised on asymmetric vulnerability and the commercialization of women’s reproductive capacity to suit individualistic motives. In examining the exploitation argument, this article reviews the social contract theory that describes an individual as an ‘economic man’ with moral and/or political motivations to satisfy individual desires. This study considers the critique by feminists, who argue that patriarchal and medical control prevails in the surrogacy contracts. It also explores the exploitative dynamics amongst actors in the light of Baier’s conceptualization of trust and human relationship, within which both justice and exploitation thrive, and Foucault’s concept of bio-power. Drawing on these concepts, this paper aims to investigate the manifestations of exploitation in commercial surrogacy in the context of trust, power and experiences of actors, using a case study of one clinic in India. The actors’ experiences are evaluated at different stages of the surrogacy process: recruitment, medical procedures, living in the surrogate home, bonding with the child and amongst actors, financial dealings, relinquishment and post-relinquishment.
This study applies ethnomethodology to identify phenomena as perceived by the actors in a situation, giving importance to their interpretations of the rules that make collective activity possible. The methods include semi-structured interviews, discussions, participant observation and explanation of the phenomena from the actors’ perspectives. Between August 2009 and April 2010, 13 surrogate mothers (SMs), 4 intended parents (IPs) and 2 medical practitioners (MPs) from one clinic in Western India were interviewed.
This study reveals that asymmetries of capacity amongst the MPs, SMs, IPs and surrogate agents (SAs) lead to a network of trust and designation of powers through rules, bringing out the relevance of Baier’s conceptualization of asymmetric vulnerability, trust and potential exploitation in human relationships. The IPs are exploited, especially in monetary terms. The SMs are relatively the most exploited, given their vulnerability. Their remuneration through surrogacy is significant for them, and their acquired knowledge as ex-surrogates is used for their own benefit and for exploiting others. Foucault’s conceptualization of power is hence relevant, since the ex-SMs re-invest the power of their exploitative experience in exploiting others.