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The surrogate system is running amok

A pregnant woman at a computer.

A pregnant woman at a computer. Photo Credit: iStock

A mother and her twins died in Idaho from complications during pregnancy last month — just days before the babies were due. While there was little media attention to the death of this 34-year-old mother of three, she is believed to be one of the first women in the United States to die after being paid to give birth to someone else’s children.

More recently, a Georgia man paid a California woman to give birth, but after learning she was carrying triplets, he demanded that she abort one of the fetuses. He is threatening her with financial ruin if she doesn’t comply.

Although the exact number of such cases is unknown because there’s no universal oversight of these pregnancies, the examples highlight the complexities of a growing surrogate system running amok. New Yorkers should be wary: The human breeding industry could be legalized here if some lawmakers get their way.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and The New York State Task Force on Life and the Law are weighing whether commercial surrogacy should be legal. That is ironic because it was Gov. Mario Cuomo who made the practice illegal years ago. He established the task force, which in 1988 found that commercial surrogacy “could not be distinguished from the sale of children and that it placed children at significant risk of harm.”

The elder Cuomo’s logic was right then and now. That’s why Canada, many European countries, and others such as India and Cambodia have outlawed the practice. Some have classified it as human trafficking.

Many people think of surrogacy as a procedure employed in extreme infertility cases. That hasn’t been the case in a long time. The infertility service market, which includes surrogacy, is a $3.5 billion business, according to a 2014 study by Marketdata Enterprises, and is expected to grow by 15 percent by 2018.

Surrogacy targets mostly women in need of money. Sometimes they are paid by wealthy couples to bear children so that fit and healthy wives don’t go through the body changes pregnancy involves. Also, same-sex male couples are looking to have children after winning the right to marry.

In almost all cases, it’s those with means paying those without to put their bodies at risk.

U.S. laws are a hodgepodge of confusing and often inconsistent rules — that are often rife with loopholes — which range from outright bans to no regulation. With a going rate of $25,000 to $50,000 paid to surrogates — not to mention associated costs for lawyers and agencies in the ballpark of $120,000, according to many surrogacy organizations — the commercial sale of babies is unfortunately a growth industry.

A 2015 study at Loma Linda University Medical Center in California found that surrogate pregnancies increase the odds of multiple births, neonatal intensive-care admission, and longer hospital stays that costmore than pregnancies conceived naturally. Surrogate mothers often carry multiples, which increases risks to both mother and children, while others have been ordered to abort a twin or a child with non-life-threatening defects.

These risks to surrogates and the children they bear are downplayed or ignored when money enters the mix. Commercial surrogacy is an exploitation of women, another way of treating a woman’s body as a commodity.

Women, children, and families deserve better. New York’s prohibition on commercial surrogacy should continue.

Jennifer Lahl is president of The Center for Bioethics and Culture Network, a non-profit organization. She is the producer and director of the film “Breeders: A Subclass of Women?”

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