Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Costs of Commodification: The Sad Story of Baby Manhji

The background:

A Japanese couple, unable to conceive a child of their own, obtained an egg from an anonymous donor (reports do not say whether the donor was paid or not) and went to the city of Anand in Gujarat, India to hire a surrogate. Anand is one of the prime hubs of the Indian surrogacy business which is almost entirely unregulated (what guidelines exist are entirely nonbinding) and estimated to be in excess of $500,00,000 annually (that's half a billion dollars, if you lose count of the zeroes). The pregnancy was successful but the marriage of the Japanese couple was not -- they divorced one month before the birth of Manhji.

Baby girl Mahji's sad story has made sensational headlines in India but I doubt that few outside India and Japan have heard of her.

Indian law gives custody to the mother in most cases of divorce. However, Baby Manhji's intended mother has severed all ties, her biological mother remains unknown and the surrogate mother's responsibility ended when she was born. Three mothers and not one will tuck her in at night or change her diapers.

Baby Manhji's father badly wants to adopt her (required by Indian law if he is to take her home) but is ineligible because he is currently single. He is left shuttling back and forth between India and Japan trying to sort out the tangled web he and his former wife created. Because he cannot legally adopt her or become her legal guardian, if he were to take her home to Japan he would be considered, under Indian law, to be a child trafficker.

While the courts have awarded temporary custody to her 70-year old Japanese grandmother, the last report I could find indicated that problems with travel documents still had not been resolved.

Bargain Baby Hunting - A Quick Introduction to Reproductive Tourism

More than 30 years ago, the first "test tube baby" was born. She is now grown with a child of her own (conceived naturally). Since her birth, which made for sensational headlines around the world, more than 3,500,000 babies have been born using ART (assisted reproductive technology). Now, with cheap flights, an easing of many international travel restrictions and medical advancements coming seemingly faster than they can be reported, fertility experts and medical ethicists are voicing worries about the problem of "reproductive tourism" which can put women and babies at risk.

Without any sort of standardization or regulation, it is impossible to know the risks a woman is walking into when she boards a plane for Bhopal, India or Denver, Colorado. Because of the patchwork of national laws, Canadian women come to the States to buy eggs or embryos while Americans who can't or don't want to pay the prices here travel to India and other places where surrogates can be paid on the cheap. Sadly, the United States which leads the world in combating human trafficking has failed to step up to the plate on the matter or reproductive tourism (which will be defended as a form of sex trafficking in a later post) and is known as the "Wild West of Reproductive Tourism".

Advances in travel which make plane fare to India within budgetary reach of ordinary people combined with exponential advances in medical technology have created a perfect storm of baby hunting on the cheap. In so many minds, articles and laws -- it seems to be a case of ability equals suitability. In other words, "We have the means, why not?"

While commentators express a desire to use the term "Reproductive Travelling" rather than "Reproductive Tourism" because the latter term belittles the deep desire behind the journey, to me it seems appropriate, if pejorative, to use a term such as tourism when children are being commodified in this manner -- much as tourists used to travel to Hong Kong for cheap cameras, people are now treating children as if they are a commodity they have a right to purchase.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

It's the behaviour, stupid!

Not the nicest of titles, is it? But when in the world are we going to learn two home truths:

Making a baby is the natural result of having sex. There are only two sure-fire methods of birth control: abstinence and hysterectomy. Not even vasectomy or tubal ligation are sure things - just ask the couple who were featured on 60 minutes some years ago who had undergone both procedures and still had a baby.

Now, for the last time. Babies are the natural result of having sex. That is what is supposed to happen. Trying to deny it by various methods is a fool's errand that will, almost inevitably, fail. If you doubt me, take a look at the countries in Africa which have the most vigorous condom promotion programs -- they also have the highest rates of HIV infection. Those same failures which enable virus transmission enable transmission of other things as well - like those little critters that come a' knocking on your nice egg's door (speaking to my female readers). Which brings us to:

The second home truth is that we can wipe out an entire class of diseases in one generation by making one simple (yet not easy) change in our behaviour. Abstinence before marriage followed by faithfulness within a lifelong marriage will rid the world of HPV, Chlamydia, Syphilis, Gonorrhea, Herpes (HSV2, the primarily sexually transmitted type of HSV), and yes, you guessed it, HIV/AIDS.

Condom promotion has not helped Africa one little bit. In fact, it may have done a great deal more harm than good as Matthew Hanley points out today in On the Square:

But risk reduction measures have a deeper and more damaging defect: a deflating absence of hope. They too often imply that we cannot influence behavior—that the best we can hope for is reducing and controlling the damage of behavior people will engage in whatever we say. More damagingly, they too often imply that we cannot change our behavior, that in matters of sexuality in particular we are doomed to live dangerously, that we are too weak to do what is best for us.

Thoughtful strategies to change behavior, on the other hand, reinforce the human capacity to recognize and choose what is good. As the Ugandan experience has proved, all people—especially the young—respond to this message when it is sincerely delivered.

The hopelessness at the heart of the risk reduction philosophy is rarely noticed and its effects almost never described or included in the evaluation of the methods for reducing AIDS in Africa. The scientific literature and the popular press instead portray technical, risk reduction measures as the only enlightened and the only truly practical approach to reducing AIDS in Africa. But that reflects a profoundly elitist and patronizing philosophy, which is an insidiously destructive one because people threatened with AIDS most need hope for the future—hope to live free of disease, discord, fear, and inner turmoil.

A colleague of mine in Africa put it like this: “Ideals are like the stars. We may not reach them, but we set our course by them.” If we hope for nothing, as someone has said, we will get what we hoped for. Advocates of risk reduction, though, seem threatened by such an ideal, maybe because it implicitly reproaches the modern autonomy project or seems to support “traditional morality.”

The only real, everlasting solution to the hopelessness the world leaves us with is not simply a change in behaviour. It is a change of heart, a new life in Christ.

Regulating the Conscience

The Council of Europe seeks to regulate the conscience of doctors.

The horror they are facing in Europe is, according to the story, an increasing number of doctors and other healthcare workers who refuse to participate in abortion because of their "religious, moral or philosophical objections". So, even thought the "enlightened" rulers of Europe recognize the right of individual healthcare providers to conscientiously object to performing certain procedures, they may be required so to do in an "emergency".

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Ideas Have Consequences

I've been reading this book by Richard Weaver. It's going to take a second and third reading to really begin to digest all the scariness he outlines. However, I couldn't help thinking about once in every three pages that Weaver was more than a little prescient. In fact, it felt like he had been reading our religious feminist friends about 30 years before they started publishing their assaults on orthodox Christianity.

When I asked a friend what the general assessment of the book was, he replied, "Briefly, conservatives like it and it makes liberals squirm." After having finished my first reading, I'd say that assessment is spot on. Long before Evangelicals started arguing about slippery slopes and fallacies, Weaver had this to say about the destructive forces present in our society (it applies equally well to the religious feminist who would discard orthodoxy for the sake of self determination):

For as the course goes on, the movement turns centrifugal; we rejoice in our abandon and are never so full of the sense of accomplishment as when we have struck some bulwark of our culture a deadly blow

From attributing fear to those who would oppose them to their denial of the fraternity that runs deeper than their precious "equality" to their similarity to the prisoners in Plato's cave who cannot perceive the truth to the bitterness that results from loss of piety to the brutality that refuses to recognize bedrock distinctions, Weaver has our religious feminist friends pinned to the wall with an accuracy that astounds. He does this because ideas have consequences and those ideas which spring from the same root will have the same consequences.

Here is an extended quote from the last chapter, Piety and Justice:

I put forward here an instance which not only is typical of contempt for natural order but which also is of transcendent importance. This is the foolish and destructive notion of "equality" of the sexes. What but a profound blacking-out of our conception of nature and purpose could have borne this fantasy? Here is a distinction of so basic a character that one might suppose the most frenetic modern would regard it as part of the donne to be respected. What God hath made distinct, let not man confuse! But no, profound differences of this kind seem only a challenge to the busy renovators of nature. The rage for equality has so blinded the last hundred years that every effort has been made to obliterate the divergence in role, in conduct, and in dress. It has been assumed, clearly out of this same impiety, that because the mission of woman is biological in a broader way, it is to be less admired. Therefore the attempt have been to masculinize women. . . A social subversion of the most spectacular kind has resulted. Today, in addition to lost generations, we have a self-pitying, lost sex.

There is a social history to this. At the source of the disorder there lies, I must repeat, an impiety toward nature . . .Woman has increasingly gone into the world as an economic "equal"and therefore competitor of man (once again equality destroys fraternity) . . . The ultimate reason lies in the world picture, for once woman has been degraded in that picture -- and putting her on a level with the males is more truly a degradation than an elevation -- she is more at the mercy of economic circumstances. . . And, in fact, they are not treated as equals; they have been made the victims of a transparent deception. Taken from a natural sphere in which they are superior, they are set to wandering between two worlds. Women can neither have the prestige of the former nor, for the fact of stubborn nature, find a real standing in the latter.

Weaver goes on to wonder that women have not themselves worked to rectify this mistake. Perhaps Weaver is right -- that the decay of piety which swept aside chivalry has proven too much for women. "After the gentleman went, the lady had to go too."

Women of the world's ancien regime were practitioners of Realpolitik in this respect: they knew where the power lies. . . They knew it lies in loyalty to what they are and not in imitativeness, exhibitionism, and cheap bids for attention. Well was it said that he who leaves his proper sphere shows that he is ignorant both of that which he quits and that which he enters. Women have been misled by the philosophy of activism into forgetting that for them, as custodians of values, it is better to "be" than to "do".

Long-haired men and short-haired women, indeed.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Man Who Was Thursday

The little blurb on the cover says it's, "the most thrilling book I've ever read" and the quote is by Kingsley Amis so it must be true, right? Just two pages in, the ever quotable Mr. Chesterton has provided me with something I'd like to share:

Most of the women were of the kind vaguely called emancipated, and professed some protest against male supremacy. Yet these new women would always pay to a man the extravagant compliment which no ordinary woman ever pays to him, that of listening while he is talking."


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

She's Back!

With a momentary break in her haitus, Dawn Eden has posted to her blog, The Dawn Patrol .

The post is a link to her speech, given while defending her master's thesis. It includes a couple of links - one of them is for those who would like a copy of the thesis itself. I encourage you to read the speech and consider purchasing the thesis - proceeds go towards financing her PhD program.