Saturday, June 27, 2009

Who’s your mommy? (Surrogacy in the modern world)

By Siesta-friendly

Baby Manjhi has 3 mothers, probably even 6. Mommy # 1 is a Japanese woman who together with her Japanese husband, paid an Indian clinic to facilitate the surrogacy of their baby. Mommy #2 is the anonymous donor of the egg which was paired with Japanese husband’s sperm. Mommy #3 is the Indian surrogate (i.e, whose womb was used for gestation).

Mommy #4, if you will, is Manjhi’s Japanese grandmother who took care of Manjhi after birth because Mommy #1 had already then divorced the Japanese husband and wanted nothing to do with Manjhi while Mommies #2 and 3 had already performed their obligations and also did not want any further involvement.

Of course, there’s more to the story. Perhaps because Manjhi was not nursed by her biological mother nor taken care of by her surrogate mother, or perhaps because her grandmother who was then taking care of her was not careful with hygiene and sterilization, or more likely all of the above, Manjhi got seriously ill and required to be hospitalized. She was assigned a personal nurse while at the hospital who some may say is Mommy #5 and a new mother who served as her wet nurse is Mommy #6.

But, that’s not even half of Manjhi’s story. See, after Manjhi’s birth (which came after the divorce), Manjhi’s father and grandmother went to India to take Manjhi home to Japan but they were not allowed to do so because in India, a child’s mother must be present when the child gets his/her passport. Since the mother was not around and because India had no law on surrogacy, adoption laws were applied (yes, even as Manjhi’s father was her biological father) and India does not allow an adoption of a girl by a single father.

So for 3 months after her birth while a case was ongoing to determine custody, Manjhi had no birth certificate, effectively no nationality and in international legal limbo despite, or maybe because, she had so many mommies.

Fortunately, Manjhi is well now, in Japan, and is too young to be affected by the international legal controversy that surrounded her. But with an apparent burgeoning industry of cross-international-border surrogacy, Manjhi’s case may yet to be just the first of many. Unless more and more countries step up and enact laws to prohibit commercial (and international) surrogacy.


The case of Manjhi can occur in the Philippines. With also no law on surrogacy, we’ll be confounded with the same issues as the Indians if a similar case happened here. Although the Family Code covers artificial insemination, it only encompasses that of the wife and not of a surrogate nor does it cover an egg donor [see Art 164 of the Family Code].

In addition, what if the case were reversed? What if the Japanese mother, the egg donor and the surrogate all claimed legal custody? We won’t be prepared to handle such a case either.

No Human Trafficking

The legal wrangling even has an impact on human trafficking. Who’s to say that a couple who pays a clinic (or some online service or other) to get them an egg or a sperm or a surrogate, or all three, will not later – in a foreign country - exploit the child for profit, labor or sex, or all three? That may be an extreme case but not impossible to occur.

If the sperm or the egg, or both, belong to the would-be traffickers, who can stop them from getting custody of the child once the surrogate gives up custody since the traffickers are the biological parents? How does one prove trafficking in such an instance?

At least adoption laws are quite strict on background checks and other requirements to safeguard the child’s future well-being. But couples wanting to adopt can now forego that process via unregulated surrogacy. The government has no say at all in the matter. In fact, they most likely are unaware of who are involved, where they are, and/or what exactly they’re doing.

Do we really need to be also known for outsourced pregnancies? We ban the sale of organs, why not the sale of babies? We regulate overseas deployment of our workers to stem human trafficking, why are we lax when it comes to the most vulnerable members of our society? Other countries have banned commercial surrogacy, why don’t we?

Based on recent news reports, commercial surrogacy (the international kind to boot) is already offered here in the Philippines. We call on our legislators not to wait to mess up the life of another baby and enact a law specifically to prohibit commercial surrogacy and plug the loophole in human trafficking while they’re at it.


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