Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale has become a huge television success, capturing audience‘s attention week after week with its dark themes, all- star cast and captivating storyline. The show brings many complex issues to light, however, the ongoing theme of infertility and alternative methods of reproduction has stirred discussion globally about the moral implications of bringing a ‘designer’ baby into the world.
For those who have never watched The Handmaid’s Tale (which I strongly recommend you do)- let me get you up to speed, with a classic IMDb synopsis of the series to get the ball rolling. “A religion-based autocracy has taken over most of the United States, renaming the country Gilead. In this country, women are second-class citizens. Anyone trying to escape is punished. One such person is June, renamed Offred, who is captured while trying to escape with her husband and child and is sentenced to be a handmaid, bearing children for childless government officials and their barren wives” (IMDb, 2017).
Based on a fiction novel, the television series is obviously a far-fetched representation of a possible future reality for us. Extremist religious groups causing terror and taking control over western civilisation? Nah. Pollution and technological waste causing vast environmental damage? As if! Women renting out their wombs as a means of survival? Now ya dreamin’! But is it so absurd? Many have linked the concepts portrayed in The Handmaid’s Tale to present-day concerns that are plaguing people with fear everywhere. In particular, the show highlights the ethical concerns and effects of alternative contraceptive practices on the birth-mother, child and parents involved.
It is obvious that we have come a long way from stork and baby tales and recollections from parents, about the drunken romantic night that you were conceived. Now we live in a world of ecommerce and express post where babies can be made to order, if your wallet allows for it.
“A world where young women are flown across the globe to donate fresh eggs , and where frozen sperm are transported from one end of the earth to another and where spare embryos are gifted to couples desperate to conceive” (Taylor, 2017).
Once sitting in the realm of science- fiction narratives, advancements in technology and fertility research have created the new reality of reproduction. However more recently, as surrogacy has gained traction and become a popular for choice for individuals seeking a child, more concerns have been raised about the profitability of the baby making industry. According to Taylor, reproduction “has become big business, with the global market tipped to grow in value beyond US$21 billion by 2020” (Taylor, 2017). Although ethically problematic, with many arguing that scientific intervention is ‘playing god’, for many couples struggling to conceive, surrogacy offers a medically supported and reasonable alternative.
For Melbourne local Melissa Hay, after years of health conditions affecting her fertility, numerous failed IVF attempts and unable to adopt, recruiting a foreign baby making agency to have her children was the ultimate solution. Hay simultaneously paid two women in India to carry her three children. They were three of the 750 babies produced at the Surrogacy Centre, located in India. The whole process cost $80,000 with the surrogate mothers earning $5,000 each, according to Melissa (Dunlevy, 2014).
For many reading this, most would feel uneasy to learn that the cost of creating a baby, through all the emotional and physical strains of pregnancy, is compensated by a simple 4- figure sum. The small figure paid to the women represents just $125 per week for the 40-week gestation period. With the majority of the sum remaining, paid to the surrogacy brokers- the new age sugar daddy.
However, as Doctor Nayana Patel, medical director of another Indian fertility clinic assures, exploiting the wombs of poor Indian women who turn to surrogacy as a means of income, is the norm.
“It can change the lives of surrogates because the money they earn may allow them to buy a home for their family, start a small business or educate their own children,” (Patel, quoted in Dunlevy, 2014).
Despite Patel’s reassuring words, I cannot help but relate the circumstances of the Indian surrogates to that of Offred’s, in The Handmaids Tale. Just like those employed at The Surrogacy Centre India, Offred used her natural ability to conceive for affluent people, as her meal ticket. As a young millennial woman, I find the idea of exploiting the bodies of socially and financially disadvantaged women for cash, or simply survival, difficult. Whether it be fictional or not, this new era of made- to- order babies has certainly made me question if it is the responsibility of women who can to reproduce. Some women are great designers, others excellent at teaching and maybe some are born to give life. Whatever your stance, it is certainly an interesting topic to consider.
Do those who can reproduce easily have an obligation to society to produce as many children, as a counterpart for those who can’t? And if so, should it be profitable?
To read more on this topic, click on the following the articles:
‘The Handmaid’s Tale and Modern- Day Surrogacy’
By Ayesha Chatterjee
Dunlevy, S. (2017). Huge boom in offshore baby market. News.com.au. Retrieved 4 September 2017, from http://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/parenting/thousands-of-infertile-australians-paying-for-surrogacy-in-india-and-thailand/news-story/a2fecc17239bb6dec90ceddc1c3aca23
Taylor, Z. (2017). The business of designer babies. University of Wollongong’s The Stand. Retrieved 4 September 2017, from http://stand.uow.edu.au/the-business-of-designer-babies/
The Handmaid’s Tale (TV Series 2017– ). (2017). IMDb. Retrieved 4 September 2017, from http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5834204/?ref_=ttep_ep_tt