Wednesday, January 28, 2009

In what way your mother is your mother?

Earlier and even now, it is ridiculous to ask an individual a question “in what way his mother is his mother?” With the expansion of science and technology, in the near future which is perhaps going to be an era of surrogate mothers, the question will be a little easier to ask। There are three answers of this question - Genetic mother, Gestational mother and Social mother. The first is the woman who provides the egg, the second is the one who carries the fetus in her body and the woman who contributes to the raising and care is the last. Usually when we refer to a woman as someone’s mother, we intend her to be identified as fulfilling the genetic and gestational as well as the social role of “mother”. With the advance of reproductive technology, it is possible that each of these three roles can be performed by three different women.

The dictionary meaning of the term “surrogate” is a substitute। Surrogate mother is a woman who bears a child for a couple who are childless because the wife is infertile or physically incapable of carrying a developing fetus। Often the surrogate mother is the biological mother of the child conceiving it by means of artificial insemination with sperm from the husband। In gestational surrogacy, the wife is fertile but incapable of carrying a growing fetus, the child is conceived by in vitro fertilization using the wife’s eggs and her husband’s sperm, and the resulting embryo is implanted in the surrogate mother’s uterus.

There are two forms of surrogacy। One, when a surrogate has a child for a couple where the husband is the genetic father and the surrogate is the genetic mother. Two, also called Host mothering, is where the surrogate carries the genetic child of both the husband and wife through IVF/gift technique which requires a doctor’s intervention. The most common form is a straight surrogacy, where the surrogate bears a child for a childless couple. In this case, the husband’s sperm is artificially inseminated into the surrogate.

The couple can draw up an agreement privately with the surrogate and arrange to pay for her expenses and that of the child’s while it is in her womb। This is a legal precedent which has been allowed in many countries; however, the agreements are not binding and either one can back out of it anytime। It is basically “work on trust”। In order to minimize the misuse of surrogacy, certain guidelines have been laid down. A contract needs to be drawn up, which should specify that the child becomes the legitimately adopted child of the intended couple. The couple, the surrogate and her husband should sign this document. The road to surrogacy is tough and long. Things are bound to go wrong, as one can not foresee the possibility of the surrogate keeping the child; the child is stillborn or dying at birth. However, it is an option some childless couples are willing to consider despite some odds.

The phenomenon has at least the power to eradicate the grievances of many Hindus in particular and Indians in general, who are obsessed with “having a child of their own”। Besides social factor like ‘someone to take care of me in my old age’, it directs our attention to a profound religious demand for a child, especially a male one. The technology brought a relief for them who believe that all men come into this world burdened by debt – pitr rin (indebted to the forefathers) and the only way to repay this is to father a male offspring. Even during funerary rites, known as shraaddha, Hindu males are reminded of this debt, whereas in the Dharmashastras, it is said that those who failed to repay this end up in the hell where they suffer for all eternity.

Despite controversial and ethical issues arising out of it, surrogacy has been gaining popularity all over the world especially in the west where adoption is not easy to come by. Research has one-in-six couples have problems with infertility. Some use medical treatments to overcome this situation, for some however, no help is available. For them, surrogacy is an option to get eternal satisfaction of having a biological child of their own.

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