Jurassic Park ranks as one of my all-time favourite films. Not simply for its ground-breaking special effects (I remember driving home from the cinema nervously checking my rear view mirror for glimpses of the spitting one with the collar sitting on the backseat), its evocative score by John Williams, its universal appeal with classic cinematic moments of suspense, scenes of comedy, horror, pathos and schmultz in equal measure, the anthropomorphism of the dinosaurs (remember the raptor impatiently tapping her claws in the denouement kitchen scene), but just as importantly because it has always struck me as being something of an allegory of our times.
I’ll elaborate shortly, but the analogy of Jurassic Park seems particularly fitting in relation to this topic, because no doubt, to some, my musings will provoke outrage and I will indeed be compared to something out of the Jurassic or Cretaceous era, a fossil or a dinosaur with no relevance in today’s modern and enlightened society. I am already anticipating the inevitable outrage this post will undoubtedly attract.
I’ll never forget the part in the laboratory or hatchery, when having overcome his initial scepticism, and overcome by wonderment and awe at this incredible and fantastic world that has been created, Dr Grant watches a baby dinosaur hatch. His reaction is one of fascination at the miracle he sees unfolding before him through the genius of science, and as he tenderly holds the newborn creature in the palm of his hand, he enquires as to the species of the hatchling. His response to the information: “You’re breeding RAPTORS?!”. The look of terror on his face tells a story all of its own, the potential for uncontrollable devastation has been unleashed.
Sometimes I feel like I’ve been catapulted through the cinema screen onto Isla Nublar, into a world where chaos and destruction brought about by mankind’s hubris reign. Like Dr Grant I watch the scientific developments unfolding all around me with both admiration and trepidation and an increasing sense of innate unease, wanting to cry out, to call a halt; yet my voice is impotent, it is too late, the clock may not be turned back, and mine is anyway a solitary voice, my discomfort drowned out by cries of derision because I cannot accept, condone and embrace how man has been able to overcome the laws of nature and taken on the role of creator.
This week we have seen yet another celebrity surrogacy, with Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban having paid a surrogate to carry a child for them, with most of the mainstream media cooing over the new arrival and documenting Nicole’s ongoing battle to conceive and miscarriages in some detail. The general consensus of opinion seems to be how wonderful, there is much less condemnation than there was of Elton John, by virtue of the age of the couple, their less prolific celebrity status and the fact they are a heterosexual couple. None of these factors have any impact on my overriding impression that this is still a fundamentally flawed and potentially terrifying arrangement. I have no doubt that the couple will make great parents, it was the use of the phrase “gestational carrier” used by the couple to thank the parent that caused me to shudder, the phrase being carefully chosen to refute any suggestion of motherhood, in order that Ms Kidman may stake her biological claim upon the child.
It cannot be right to pay women for the use of their womb, to put them through a procedure which entails considerable physical stress and risk, one which will have a life-long impact upon them. All this does is reduce a woman down to her reproductive capacity, treating her as some kind of object, in the same way that most women are objectivised in the sex industry. There is no legal transplant market in the UK, for the very same reasons. It does not matter that a potential recipient may be extremely deserving of an organ, the practice of paying someone to provide or donate an organ is rightly outlawed in order to prevent exploitation. Some people may see no harm in paying a donor huge sums of money to provide a body part, but the fact is, that the donor would only do this in a free market for a considerable fee, given that the donation would severely physically compromise them. A surrogate will undoubtedly physically compromise herself in the process of surrogacy. She may well be motivated by altruism and certainly the UK laws on surrogacy exist to prevent exploitation, but nonetheless, whether intended or not, exploitation is what surrogacy amounts to, never more so when it involves a mother carrying a child that is not genetically hers. The problem is already particularly rife in countries like India whereby women are coerced into surrogacy and paid an absolute pittance to carry and painfully deliver a child which they must then relinquish, due to economic necessity and the demands of the free market. Even in the UK where we have laws to prevent this, heart-breaking cases such as this one arise, when a woman cannot bring herself to part with her baby.
To me, nothing is more heartbreaking than a woman being legally required to give up a child that she has cherished and nurtured in her womb and brought into the world. Some women do this voluntarily, however the vast majority are enticed by the financial gain. The fact that this is not an act that most women are prepared to undergo is borne out by the fact that there is a much greater demand for surrogacy in the UK, than there are surrogates. It is argued that updating the laws will redress the balance, but in reality all this will do is encourage more women to use their bodies for the benefit of others, particularly in these times of economic hardship. Many commentators such as the Fawcett Society are keen to point out how women seem to be disproportionately affected by the cuts, agreeing to be a surrogate could be a financial lifeline for many.
Many people have argued, where is the harm, how is this hurting anyone? Well, apart from exploitation, for every live baby born via IVF, 7-10 embryos are destroyed. This is clearly problematic for anyone who believes that life begins at conception. A zygote or an embryo is no less alive than any living person. That’s an incredible amount of destruction of human life. The desire for genetic offspring of one’s own, does an inordinate amount of harm to those children languishing in care homes in desperate need of loving families. The demand for babies is making it increasingly difficult to find loving families for children barely out of toddlerhood. The introduction of a third party into the process of reproduction also overrides the rights of a child to be carried in the womb by its biological mother.
So what does this matter to me, why am I concerned with the lives of celebrities, why can’t I “live and let live”? The reason being is that what celebrities do undoubtedly sets a trend and paves the road for us normal folk. Does that sound far-fetched? Well apparently Eastenders, renowned for tackling hard-hitting social issues and dramas that affect real-life people is planning a controversial surrogacy story-line, which yes, shock horror, involves its two gay characters. More importantly Tony and Barrie Drewitt-Barlow, the first gay couple to use surrogacy in the UK, are to open the UK’s first centre to advise and guide same-sex couples through the surrogacy process. They want to match couples from Europe with surrogates and egg donors in the US, and have a centre in California (where Elton adopted) to help with this stated aim. Referring to the Elton John adoption Barrie Drewitt-Barlow said: ‘It’s positive news for gay parenting. The more high-profile the people using surrogacy to start their families, the more mainstream it becomes’. Proof that what celebrities do, has a direct impact on everyday society.
See there I go again, can’t resist bringing gay people into it, I hear them cry. Nothing to do with homophobia or hatred, simply to deny a child its biological mother is deeply immoral and denies the rights of that child to its biological mother and father. It’s strange, as I write this, I can almost sense the sharp intakes of breath, the palpable outrage, this is homophobia at its height, see look, she’s at it again, somebody do something, call the police, lets out this evil woman and her hateful rantings of course two gay men have as much right to a child as anybody else, but here’s the thing, NOBODY has a right to a child, no-one. A child, is a blessing, a gift, a privilege, not a commodity to be bought and sold to satisfy what is essentially a selfish desire to experience parenthood, without so much of a hint to the rights of a child to an identity, knowledge of its mother and father or its biological family tree. All of us have an innate desire to identify ourselves within the world around us, a longing to put ourselves into historical and biological context, an innate yearning to know who our birth parents are. A child might well feel that it was loved and wanted so much that two people paid a lot of money and went to a lot of trouble to ensure that it was created, but equally that might put a lot of pressure on the child in terms of living up to expectations and there is a more than a slight possibly that the child will grow up longing for the presence of the absent father or mother. To complicate a child’s identity by separating genetic parenthood from the gestation and raising of the child raises serious ethical concerns.
And for those who counter the idea that surrogacy whether heterosexual or homosexual has anything to do with commercialism, here are the words of Barrie Drewitt-Barlow: ‘
It’s aim is to bring together intended parents with egg donors and surrogates, along with donors, and offer legal advice from qualified legal professionals. I will be responsible for the assessment of intended patients and the assessments of potential egg donors and surrogates, and for helping with all legal documentation to allow each couple to bring home their baby to the UK’.
All of this comes gratis does it? No exchange of money whatsoever? All donors motivated purely by altruism? Where does it stop, will a woman who is phobic of pregnancy and childbirth have a right to pay someone else to go through the entire business for her? We have opened a Pandora’s Box of ethical dilemmas. Nightmare horrific sci-fi scenarios have become the reality, with surrogates ordered to undergo abortions and one case in Los Angeles which had an unbelievable 5 would-be parents vying for custody of a child. It seems that we are living in a world turned entirely on its head, which on the one hand sanctions the mass murder of an entire generation of unborn, with over 200,000 lives lost to abortion in the UK every year alone, and yet on the other hand, is spending huge amounts of money on technology to create babies in a laboratory which has a high rate of failure (70-80%).
Of course, given that I “fall pregnant at the merest hint of sperm” and “live in a fertile ivory” tower, absolutely invalidates any right I have to comment, according to my detractors. Because I have not directly experienced the pain, anguish and longing of infertility I am unable to comment and to describe surrogacy as a commercial arrangement is deeply offensive and hurtful to those who might wish to enter into these arrangements. As indeed it is allegedly “hurtful to question the morality of a medical procedure”!!
Just because the technology is available, it does not mean that we need to avail ourselves of it. We have the technology to annihilate entire continents thanks to the technology of nuclear weapons. Do we have a right to avail ourselves of it, simply because it exists? In previous ages, women had no other option other than to accept the cruel lot that nature had dealt them, and often managed to fulfil their motherly vocation in other ways. I can’t begin to image how it must feel to be infertile and I cannot tell women how they should manage their pain, nor can I condemn people for wanting to go to extraordinary lengths to fulfil their dreams, however I can question whether or not this is good for society as a whole.
To go back to Jurassic Park, no-one doubted that the intentions of John Hammond, the park owner portrayed so brilliantly by Richard Attenborough were anything but benign. Admittedly, like mankind he displayed a staggering amount of hubris, but he wanted to share the wonders of modern science with the world, to encourage discovery, exploration and learning, not cause chaos and devastation. Though his intentions were laudable there were plenty of others willing to exploit the technology for their own personal gain. What he learnt was that you tamper with nature at your peril. He was guilty of nothing but naivety.
In the words of Jeff Goldblum “Too busy thinking about whether or not they could, to think about whether or not they should“…