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New Cannibal Markets

Jean-Daniel Rainhorn
Samira El Boudamoussi

Part 2. Wombs for Rent

How Do We Balance Risk and Desire?

René Frydman

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1Surrogacy was practiced as far back as biblical times, although it was rare and clandestine. Slavery was common at the time, and natural sexual intercourse was the only way to finalize the project. Hagar, Sarah and Abraham are the best-known example of this particular transaction.

2The development of in vitro fertilization (IVF) techniques, however, has led to a division of motherhood, creating three possible types of mother. A genetic mother provides the oocyte, a gestational mother provides gestation after embryo transfer, and a social mother takes care of the baby. Perhaps one day, we will see a fourth possibility: two genetic mothers, with one providing the nucleus and the other a younger cytoplasm to enhance the development of the embryo.

3Although this fragmentation of the female “supply” is now possible, it is still frequently regarded as unacceptable. The existence of new techniques does not mean that we have to use them, particularly when there is some risk of alienation or harm to a person.

4Many countries prohibit surrogacy and officially view this practice as an inducement to child abandonment. Many psychoanalysts insist on the need to pay attention to the equilibrium of the baby and the surrogate mother, yet in the majority of the cases, the latter disappears completely after the birth, becoming a foreigner without any role in the child’s story or official parenting.

5The idea that “I have a right to have a baby and especially a baby with my own genome” can be dangerous, particularly when commercialization occurs in this field.

6In this section, Seema Mohapatra will discuss the situation in the United States, where no uniform federal legislation exists. She focuses on California, a leading international surrogacy destination. On the topic of fertility tourism, Elisabeth Beck-Gernsheim demonstrates the correlation between the medical profession and a commercial enterprise inside a global market, particularly with Danish sperm and Indian wombs. India as a place of commercial surrogacy is the topic addressed by Sarojini Nadimpally, who reports on the huge commercial market there. She describes surrogate selection, why people enter into surrogacy, and how remuneration and payment are organized. Etti Samama reports on the situation in Israel, where legislation dating from 1996 made Israel the first country in the world to allow surrogacy by explicit law. The country has some of the most quantitative research (655 case files) concerning designated parents, surrogates, children of surrogates, and their families. There is specific focus on the relationships between the parents and surrogates before, during, and after pregnancy.

7Commercial surrogacy lies at the intersection of patriarchy, medical power, and market, where the child becomes a simple “product” of the arrangement and the woman’s body a “resource.” In such a context, is it possible to avoid a risk of exploitation as surrogacy is an example of the human body—and particularly the woman’s body—becoming a commodity? Are we allowed to put other human beings at risk—physically, emotionally and/or morally—to satisfy a couple’s desire for genetic continuity without considering the respect of all others involved in the process?


Professor emeritus at the Faculty of Medicine, University Paris V, and Consultant at Foch Hospital (Paris Suresnes). His special areas of interest in gynecology and obstetrics include infertility and high-risk pregnancy. His work in infertility successively led to the first baby born in France as a result of in vitro fertilization in 1982, embryo freezing in 1986, preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) in 2000, in vitro maturation in 2003, oocyte cryopreservation in 2010, and PGD with human leukocyte antigen (HLA) matching in order to bring about the birth of a savior sibling in January 2011. His other areas of interest are biomedical ethics. His work has led to many invitations to debate the moral issues created by the use of artificial procreation techniques. He actively participated in the preparation on the French law on bioethics. René Frydman is an officer of the French Legion of Honor.

© Éditions de la Maison des sciences de l’homme, 2015

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