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Skyping with MIT: Trafficking in Global Surrogacy

Skyping w/ Kim Surkan’s class @ MIT on Gender and Technology

introductions: several biological engineers
(=mathematical modeling of biological systems: chemical & mechanical engineering)

Abha Sur’s presentation:
begin by putting technology in a larger context of
nature/prior existing technologies/labor relations/reproduction/daily life--
all work together
how do social relations, etc. interact w/ technology, historically
technology made colonization easier; seen as desirable
technology changes social relations (different in India than in England)
ex: railroad lines developed to transport goods and armies, not ppl
colonialism/green revolutionàdestruction of the natural world
how impact gender? women must travel further to get firewood, plants, etc.

India described as competitive emerging economy,
but 800 million ppl live below the poverty line (less than $1-2/day)
when discussing technology: which section of population are we discussing?
cf. good life for educated urban woman, w/ rough time of working class women
50% babies born in India have low birth weights, malnutrition, w/ low access to food/water; India projects itself as medical tourist site, where most native ppl don’t have access to medical care

population identified as biggest problem: gov’t mandate 1970s: big billboards pushing family planning; shocking sterilization of young women
questions are not new: limiting social/economic conditions/need to share
fruits of technology

paying attention to the larger picture
our relation w/ nature has changed so dramatically
need to think about profound impact of technologies on nature (w/ no regulation)
dicotomy elevating indigenous knowledges over and against western ones

try to think beyond technology, place in context to understand/evaluate
law in India today that sex of child, identified by ultrasound, may not be communicated --but there are many ways to indicate this (leaving the paper upright, etc.) and then they can make the decision to abort

studies show that, for the poor, having more children makes more sense
sons provide greater security (obligated to care for aging parents)
strong cultural norms: daughter is married off, become property of the in-laws
selective abortions not only in India; laws are strict but late term abortions are easily available

you can’t think of technology as progress: can be quite detrimental
take any technology: can be liberating or not
one child policy?

discussion of surrogacy: tourism aspect inviting
people to come in and use technology
# of doctors is high; but to whom do they cater?
extraordinary pressure on women to be a surrogate
term “choice” is meaningless in this context
question of article: why is it always poor women who are surrogates?
not gifts of the heart, but done for $$
concept of children as commodity is abhorrent to most

problem of Filipina women coming to care for Indian children,
leaving their own children to be cared for by others
today India @ the forefront of use of reproductive technologies

Kim invites discussion of the uses of reproductive
technology in the developing world
cf. surrogate pregnancy of Indian vs. American women?
in philosophy class: Kantian approach of women as means to end
preying on the vulnerable
descrepancy of donor eggs and surrogacy: adds asking college women to donate
problem of market value associated w/ technology:
sounds very negative: buying a child
price differentiation of eggs from Ivy League vs. community college donors
politics of adoption
social construction/status of motherhood
commodifies relationships
surrogacy puts emphasis on genetic essentialism and identity politics
(=mother doesn’t bond w/ child of a different pigmentation)
what happens to transaction if child is born w/ defects?
alienation happens
success rate for surrogacy is only 25%
poor women can only get the money if the procedure is successful:
not a steady source of income; on the whole it makes
India in play because much cheaper: 1/5 price of here
same class politics w/in the U.S.
caste might be another variation in India
w/in framework of a capitalist transaction:
what’s the difference between creating a new software game and a child?
natural abhorrence to cost benefit analysis
surrogacy as a monetary transaction has to stop
on the importance in separating the human (w/ intrinsic value)
from the mechanical (which we give value to):
intrinsic value: on its own, not dependent on relation w/ other things
compare creating sentient life w/ AI
what does it mean not to attach intrinsic value?
huge schema of contemporary value is capitalistic economic
need to recognize systems of value outside that:
expose trade-off between different systems in conflict
aren’t all systems extrinsic?
we are social
there is a difference between mechanical artifacts and humans
should we take it back to technophobia/technophilia question?
challenge utopic attitude toward technology: consider implications/consequences
complicating that: leads us w/ dangling policy decisions
(cf. BMC exercise: what surgeries would we pay for, socially?)
article says: ban all international surrogacy
@ what point is regulation needed?
(if banned in India, will just go to another country)
cf. attempts to limit stem cell research
where is the bar? if no certification of med’l professional is needed?
the problem: commodity transactions function in deeply unequal world
the problem: that it gets routinized
can we see women lending their bodies to their friends to have their babies?
the only reason capitalism works:
because there are inequities/growth/gaps to drive forward
should we be bearing our own biological children?
if this technology were scarcer, more people would adopt

unasked questions:
colonialism and caste system influence access
how real is the economic rationale?
cf. injustices of supply vs. demand issues
why are you defined by your children in such societies?
why are boys status symbols?