Kim K com­mis­sions an­other baby

If men have their say, Bri­tain could soon en­joy its very own sur­ro­gate in­dus­try

The Observer - - News - Catherine Ben­nett

Be­holdthe hand­maid (#2) of the Kar­dashi­ans. Or at least, that of Kim, the celebrity, and Kanye, artist and Trump loy­al­ist. The cou­ple have just an­nounced the com­mis­sion­ing of their fourth child, us­ing the womb of a ges­ta­tional car­rier who will, since this is the US, be paid for the rental.

In details shared af­ter their pre­vi­ous car­rier de­liv­ered, last year, Kim Kar­dashian ex­plained to her mil­lions of fans that she was the first per­son to have “skin on skin” con­tact with her baby and that the ex­pe­ri­ence, from car­rier vet­ting to the car­rier’s or­ganic diet to de­liv­ery, had gone so bril­liantly she “would rec­om­mend sur­ro­gacy to any­body” (pre­sum­ably as the pur­chaser rather than the provider). One of the few prob­lems was re­mem­ber­ing she was hav­ing a baby: “I’m to­tally gonna for­get and then a month be­fore I’m gonna be like holy shit, we need to get a nurs­ery.” For the sur­ro­gacy in­dus­try, then, this on­go­ing Kimye pro­mo­tion may be the most valu­able pub­lic­ity since El­ton John and his part­ner ac­quired two de­light­ful sons via a sim­i­lar route – far more so, in fact, since Kar­dashian, though it could be risky for her to give birth again, at least had the not en­tirely tragic al­ter­na­tive to ges­ta­tional as­sis­tance of re­main­ing a mother of two healthy chil­dren. Con­ven­tion­ally, the at­tri­bu­tion of des­per­a­tion to in­fer­tile or gay would-be par­ents has been crit­i­cal in eclips­ing the other sorts of des­per­a­tion that might make im­pov­er­ished In­dian, Greek or Ukrainian women con­sider be­com­ing in­cu­ba­tors for rich cou­ples they are un­likely, post baby han­dover, to see again.

At the same time that the sup­posed ag­o­nies of in­fer­til­ity have for years been crit­i­cal to bury­ing eth­i­cal is­sues or con­cern for the sur­ro­gates’ well­be­ing – as they were in ad­dress­ing squeamish­ness about other forms of as­sisted re­pro­duc­tion – this nar­ra­tive has also, plainly, re­stricted take-up of a ser­vice that, given the sup­ply, could work for any­one with the money. Who says you have to be child­less, in films, or tragic, to em­ploy a will­ing hu­man in­cu­ba­tor? Es­pe­cially when ev­i­dence from women who have done so of­ten sug­gests that car­ri­ers have a su­per-re­ward­ing time help­ing out sad, richer ladies, so much so that it’s a won­der that ges­ta­tion, even with its re­stric­tive con­tracts and lim­ited long-term re­wards, has yet to take off as pop­u­lar ca­reer choice. But per­haps that could change?

To have Kar­dashian now break off from mar­ket­ing meal re­place­ments to help nor­malise, say, the in­va­sive scru­tiny of sur­ro­gates by their hir­ers, as if it were no dif­fer­ent from in­spect­ing a horse’s teeth, or go­ing back, those of a sturdy house­hold ser­vant, is a pre­cious en­dorse­ment for an in­dus­try now fac­ing or­gan­ised in­ter­na­tional threats to its prof­its (at least $2.3bn an­nu­ally). For lo­cal ges­ta­tion fa­cil­i­ta­tors, her intervention could hardly be bet­ter timed.

Af­ter decades in which the UK re­pro­duc­tive in­dus­try has lost out, thanks to the in­sis­tence on ex­penses-only car­rier al­tru­ism, to less reg­u­lated over­seas ges­ta­tors – with re­sult­ing le­gal strug­gles for par­ents – the Law Com­mis­sion has been asked by the Depart­ment of Health to con­sult on sur­ro­gacy law. Al­ready, for any would-be clients and re­pro­duc­tive en­trepreneurs who fear that the com­mis­sion might be in­flu­enced by Swe­den’s re­cent de­ci­sion to ban sur­ro­gacy, the dis­cus­sion looks likely to pro­ceed along more prag­matic lines. Sir Ni­cholas Green, chair of the body, has noted that while Bri­tish sur­ro­gacy has in­creased ten­fold in 10 years, the law re­mains “quite cum­ber­some”. Stream­lin­ing, you gather, is a pri­or­ity. More­over, to the ex­tent that the ethics of trad­ing in ges­ta­tional ser­vices, any­where, do come up, they will be de­bated – more great news for the womb trade – by a body whose lead­ing fig­ures are, ex­clu­sively, male.

In charge of re­view­ing laws on UK womb rental will be five law com­mis­sion­ers who could only be at the pay­ing end of such a trans­ac­tion: Green, as­sisted by Pro­fes­sor Nick Hop­kins, Stephen Lewis, Pro­fes­sor David Ormerod QC and Ni­cholas Paines QC. While the men are un­doubt­edly con­ver­sant with the ethics of ges­ta­tional labour, it’s not great for ap­pear­ances. That part of the fe­male pop­u­la­tion that notes the un­com­fort­able par­al­lels be­tween cur­rent sur­ro­gacy prac­tices and the regimes im­posed in Mar­garet At­wood’s The Hand­maid’s

may need re­as­sur­ing that Green’s com­mis­sion had not, be­fore the off, ac­cepted that out­sourced ges­ta­tion, in docile hu­man con­tain­ers, is so un­re­mark­able as to re­quire only im­proved pa­per­work. In his new, wildly in­ven­tive film,

the direc­tor Boots Ri­ley in­tro­duces an in­den­tured work­force, prop­erty of the Wor­ryFree com­pany, whose mem­bers trade au­ton­omy, pri­vacy and their labour for a dor­mi­tory bed and food. Be­fore the Law Com­mis­sion con­sid­ers what, if any­thing, could con­sti­tute ap­pro­pri­ate pay­ment for the risks, dis­com­fort and long-term im­pact of car­ry­ing a foe­tus in cir­cum­stances de­signed for the ben­e­fit of the pur­chaser, it needs to ask if such transactions, even when they’re not ful­filled in re­mote ges­ta­tional dor­mi­to­ries, are sig­nif­i­cantly less dystopic than Wor­ryFree’s. How­ever and wher­ever they are treated, the women can’t walk away.

That there are some sur­ro­gates who found the ex­pe­ri­ence en­rich­ing can hardly ex­cuse, or dig­nify, the re­lated, in­ter­na­tional sur­ro­gacy racket, in which poor women, mo­ti­vated much like Wor­ryFree’s re­cruits, are con­trolled by their renters’ agents, then dis­carded. And if law re­form were to lead to a le­gal, prof­itable in­dus­try in UK womb rental, as re­cently pro­posed by that benev­o­lent judge, Sir James Munby, would this for­mal com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion of fe­male body parts rep­re­sent progress? “It’s prob­a­bly bet­ter to face up to reality and move to a proper sys­tem of reg­u­la­tion rather than pro­hi­bi­tion,” Munby said. A proper sys­tem of reg­u­la­tion? He’s talk­ing about women’s bod­ies, not fac­to­ries.

The sup­posed ag­o­nies of in­fer­til­ity have long been crit­i­cal to bury­ing eth­i­cal is­sues

Kim Kar­dashian in Au­gust 2015, preg­nant with her sec­ond child. Bauer-Grif­fin/GC Im­ages Tale Sorry to Bother You,

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