By now we all have a story about a job outsourced beyond our reach in the global economy. My own favorite is about the California publisher who hired two reporters in India to cover the Pasadena city government. Really.
There are times as well when the offshoring of jobs takes on a quite literal meaning. When the labor we are talking about is, well, labor.
In the last few months we’ve had a full nursery of international stories about surrogate mothers. Hundreds of couples are crossing borders in search of lower-cost ways to fill the family business. In turn, there’s a new coterie of international workers who are gestating for a living.
Many of the stories about the globalization of baby production begin in India, where the government seems to regard this as, literally, a growth industry. In the little town of Anand, dubbed “The Cradle of the World,” 45 women were recently on the books of a local clinic. For the production and delivery of a child, they will earn $5,000 to $7,000, a decade’s worth of women’s wages in rural India.
5 But even in America, some women, including Army wives, are supplementing their income by contracting out their wombs. They have become surrogate mothers for wealthy couples from European countries that ban the practice.
This globalization of baby-making comes at the peculiar intersection of a high reproductive technology and a low-tech work force. The biotech business was created in the same petri dish as Baby Louise, the first IVF baby. But since then, we’ve seen conception outsourced to egg donors and sperm donors. We’ve had motherhood divided into its parts from genetic mother to gestational mother to birth mother and now contract mother.
We’ve also seen the growth of an international economy. Frozen sperm is flown from one continent to another. And patients have become medical tourists, searching for cheaper health care whether it’s a new hip in Thailand or an IVF treatment in South Africa that comes with a photo safari thrown in for the same price. Why not then rent a foreign womb?
I don’t make light of infertility. The primal desire to have a child underlies this multinational Creation, Inc. On one side, couples who choose surrogacy want a baby with at least half their own genes. On the other side, surrogate mothers, who are rarely implanted with their own eggs, can believe that the child they bear and deliver is not really theirs.
As one woman put it, “We give them a baby and they give us much-needed money. It’s good for them and for us.” A surrogate in Anand used the money to buy a heart operation for her son. Another raised a dowry for her daughter. And before we talk about the “exploitation” of the pregnant woman, consider her alternative in Anand: a job crushing glass in a factory for $25 a month.
10 Nevertheless, there is—and there should be—something uncomfortable about a free market approach to baby-making. It’s easier to accept surrogacy when it’s a gift from one woman to another. But we rarely see a rich woman become a surrogate for a poor family. Indeed, in Third World countries, some women sign these contracts with a fingerprint because they are illiterate.
For that matter, we have not yet had stories about the contract workers for whom pregnancy was a dangerous occupation, but we will. What obligation does a family that simply contracted for a child have to its birth mother? What control do—should—contractors have over their “employees’” lives while incubating “their” children? What will we tell the offspring of this international trade?
“National boundaries are coming down,” says bioethicist Lori Andrews, “but we can’t stop human emotions. We are expanding families and don’t even have terms to deal with it.”
It’s the commercialism that is troubling. Some things we cannot sell no matter how good “the deal.” We cannot, for example, sell ourselves into slavery. We cannot sell our children. But the surrogacy business comes perilously close to both of these deals. And international surrogacy tips the scales.
So, these borders we are crossing are not just geographic ones. They are ethical ones. Today the global economy sends everyone in search of the cheaper deal as if that were the single common good. But in the biological search, humanity is sacrificed to the economy and the person becomes the product. And, step by step, we come to a stunning place in our ancient creation story. It’s called the marketplace.
zachary stumps (student)
With her op-ed piece “Womb for Rent,” published in the Seattle Times (and earlier in the Washington Post), syndicated columnist Ellen Goodman enters the murky debate about reproductive technology gone global. Since Americans are outsourcing everything else, “Why not then rent a foreign womb?” (169) she asks. Goodman, a Pulitzer Prize–winning columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group, is known for helping readers understand the “tumult of social change and its impact on families,” and for shattering “the mold of men writing exclusively about politics” (“Ellen Goodman”). This op-ed piece continues her tradition of examining social change from the perspective of family issues.
Introduction provides context and poses issue to be addressed.
Provides background on Goodman
Goodman launches her short piece by asserting that one of the most recent and consequential “jobs” to be outsourced is having babies. She explains how the “globalization of baby production” (169) is thriving because it brings together the reproductive desires of people in developed countries and the bodily resources of women in developing countries such as India. Briefly tracing how both reproductive technology and medical tourism have taken advantage of global possibilities, Goodman acknowledges that the thousands of dollars Indian women earn by carrying the babies of foreign couples represent a much larger income than these women could earn in any other available jobs.
Summarizes the op-ed piece
After appearing to legitimize this global exchange, however, Goodman shifts to her ethical concerns by raising some moral questions that she says are not being addressed in this trade. She concludes with a full statement of her claim that this global surrogacy is encroaching on human respect and dignity, exploiting business-based science, and turning babies into products.
In this piece, Goodman’s delay of her thesis has several rhetorical benefits: it gives Goodman space to present the perspective of poor women, enhanced by her appeals to pathos, and it invites readers to join her journey into the complex contexts of this issue; however, this strategy is also risky because it limits the development of her own argument.
Develops first point in thesis: use of pathos in exploring perspective of poor women
5 Instead of presenting her thesis up front, Goodman devotes much of the first part of her argument to looking at this issue from the perspective of foreign surrogate mothers. Using the strategies of pathos to evoke sympathy for these women, she creates a compassionate and progressive-minded argument that highlights the benefits to foreign surrogate mothers. She cites factual evidence showing that the average job for a woman in Anand, India, yields a tiny “$25 a month” gotten through the hard work of “crushing glass in a factory” (170), compared to the “$5,000 to $7,000” made carrying a baby to term (169). To carry a baby to term for a foreign couple represents “a decade’s worth of women’s wages in rural India” (169). Deepening readers’ understanding of these women, Goodman cites one woman who used her earnings to finance her son’s heart operation and another who paid for her daughter’s dowry. In her fair presentation of these women, Goodman both builds her own positive ethos and adds a dialogic dimension to her argument by helping readers walk in the shoes of otherwise impoverished surrogate mothers.
The second rhetorical benefit of Goodman’s delayed thesis is that she invites readers to explore this complex issue of global surrogacy with her before she declares her own view. To help readers understand and think through this issue, she relates it to two other familiar global topics: outsourcing and medical tourism. First, she introduces foreign surrogacy as one of the latest forms of outsourcing: “This globalization of baby-making comes at the peculiar intersection of a high reproductive technology and a low-tech work force” (169). Presenting these women as workers, she explains that women in India are getting paid for “the production and delivery of a child” (269) that is analogous to the production and delivery of sneakers or bicycle parts. Goodman also sets this phenomenon in the context of global medical tourism. If people can pursue lower-cost treatment for illnesses and health conditions in other countries, why shouldn’t an infertile couple seeking to start a family not also have such access to these more affordable and newly available means? This reasoning provides a foundation for readers to begin understanding the many layers of the issue.
Develops second point in thesis: the complex contexts of this issue—outsourcing and medical tourism
Shows how the delayed-thesis structure creates two perspectives in conflict
The result of Goodman’s delayed-thesis strategy is that the first two-thirds of this piece seem to justify outsourcing surrogate motherhood. Only after reading the whole op-ed piece can readers see clearly that Goodman has been dropping hints about her view all along through her choice of words. Although she clearly sees how outsourcing surrogacy can help poor women economically, her use of market language such as “production,” “delivery,” and “labor” carry a double meaning. On first reading of this op-ed piece, readers don’t know if Goodman’s punning is meant to be catchy and entertaining or serves another purpose. This other purpose becomes clear in the last third of the article when Goodman forthrightly asserts her criticism of the commercialism of the global marketplace that promotes worldwide searching for a “cheaper deal”: “humanity is sacrificed to the economy and the person becomes the product” (170). This is a bold and big claim, but does the final third of her article support it?
In the final five paragraphs of this op-ed piece, Goodman begins to develop the rational basis of her argument; however, the brevity of the op-ed genre and her choice not to state her view openly initially have left Goodman with little space to develop her own claim. The result is that she presents some profound ideas very quickly. Some of the ethically complex ideas she introduces but doesn’t explore much are these:
Restates the third point in his thesis: lack of space limits development of Goodman’s argument
· • The idea that there are ethical limits on what can be “sold.”
· • The idea that surrogate motherhood might be a “dangerous occupation.”
· • The idea that children born from this “international trade” may be confused about their identities.
Goodman simply has not left herself enough space to develop these issues and perhaps leaves readers with questions rather than with changed views. I am particularly struck by several questions. Why have European countries banned surrogacy in developing countries and why has the United States not banned this practice? Does Goodman intend to argue that the United States should follow Europe’s lead? She could explore more how this business of finding illiterate women to bear children for the wealthy continues to exploit third-world citizens much as sex tourism exploits women in the very same countries. It seems to perpetuate a tendency for the developed world to regard developing countries as a poor place of lawlessness where practices outlawed in the rest of the world (e.g., child prostitution, slave-like working conditions) are somehow tolerable. Goodman could have developed her argument more to state explicitly that a woman who accepts payment for bearing a baby becomes an indentured servant to the family. Yet another way to think of this issue is to see that the old saying of “a bun in the oven” is more literal than metaphoric when a woman uses her womb as a factory to produce children, a body business not too dissimilar to the commercialism of prostitution. Goodman only teases readers by mentioning these complex problems without producing an argument.
Discusses examples of ideas raised by Goodman but not developed
10 Still, although Goodman does not expand her criticism of outsourced surrogate motherhood or explore the issues of human dignity and rights, this argument does introduce the debate on surrogacy in the global marketplace, raise awareness, and begin to direct the conversation toward a productive end of seeking a responsible, healthy, and ethical future. Her op-ed piece lures readers into contemplating deep, perplexing ethical and economic problems and lays a foundation for readers to create an informed view of this issue.
“Ellen Goodman.” Postwritersgroup.com . Washington Post Writer’s Group, 2008. Web. 19 May 2008.
Goodman, Ellen. “Womb for Rent.” Washington Post 11 Apr. 2008: B6. Rpt. in Writing Arguments. John D. Ramage, John C. Bean, and June Johnson. 10th ed. New York: Pearson Education, 2016. 169-170. Print.
Uses MLA format to list sources cited in the essay