“I am entitled to have a baby”: the surrogacy business is flourishing in the United States

Publié le 31 Mar, 2017

The “Les Echos” newspaper conducted a survey on the US surrogacy business. This market was created about thirty years ago and now boasts an annual turnover of approximately “$4 billion” according to the Harris Williams&Co practice. Tens of agencies offer to put couples “desperate for children” in touch with surrogate mothers. These agencies include “three giants”, each of which ‘generate’ hundreds of pregnancies each year”, namely Center for Surrogate Parenting and Growing Generations in San Francisco, and Circle Surrogacy in Boston. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine estimates that 2,000 surrogate mothers give birth every year in the United States. However, for Mary Murphey, who manages an agency in Wisconsin, these figures are under-estimated“not to attract attention”.


Furthermore, “as little as possible is said about money. The Americans say that the eggs are ‘donated’, whereas in actual fact they are sold at various, sometimes exorbitant prices depending on the intellectual and physical qualities of the donors”. Applicants are ill at ease about the subject: “It’s not like buying crisps: no-one wants to recognise the commercial side of having babies”, analysed Debora Spar, author of the book,The baby business: how money, science and politics drive the commerce of conception. In this business, “cost is less important than in a conventional market. The paradox lies in the fact that 90% of the population produce babies free of charge. Others pay between $25,000 and $15,000, depending on treatments. Virtually no other market exercises such distortion”.


As the United States was “the only western country to authorise marketing of the uterus, eggs and sperm”, requests are flooding in from all over the world: “Four years ago, international clients represented only 20% of the records filed by Stuart Bell who manages Growing Generations. Today they account for more than half”. Faced with competition from emerging countries where rates are far lower, the United States “provides reassurance” through “hordes of lawyers and doctors”. Because although some “safeguards” have been put in place by American society in relation to reproductive medicine, this business “is virtually flouting all manner of legislation”. “Anyone can create a surrogate mother agency”, explained Mary Murphey. Following the scandal of the “baby M” case in the 1980s where the surrogate mother refused “to hand over the baby she had carried to the biological father and his wife”, lawyers“nowadays demand that the egg is not taken from the surrogate mother. This then prevents her from having any genetic link with the infant”. Agencies also prefer to hire “surrogate mothers who have finished having their own families as there is then less temptation to keep the baby”. However, “problems” also come from the future parents, who change their minds at the end of nine months, “because they are getting divorced or because of a foetal abnormality, for instance”“Americans are so obsessed with consumption and so besotted with this ‘I’m entitled to have a baby’ approach that they prefer to close their eyes to ethical questions”, concluded Abby Lippamn, from McGill University.


Another practice is spreading on the other side of the Atlantic, namely the freezing of sperm and embryos. Encouraged and financed for employees by companies such as Apple or Facebook over the last three years(“Facebook also supports surrogacy”), this practice has nowadays been taken up by numerous companies. These “fertility programmes” are compared to the financing of contraception by health insurance contracts. Fertility is being “controlled” in both cases, thus “following the same logic”.

Les Echos, Lucie Robequain (17/03/2017)

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