Slavery and Surrogacy image

Slavery and Surrogacy

That there was a time when 85,000 Africans a year were taken against their will from their motherland to work the plantations of the Caribbean and America is appalling to us. That the human rights of those so transported were utterly ignored appals us. The hypocrisy of respectable, morally upright people, who did not own slaves but benefitted from the fruits of the 'Guinea trade' and closed their eyes to its reality appals us. No justification - historic, economic or social - can redeem the horrors of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. It was an abuse of power, in which human beings were treated as objects. It should appal us.

In a humane society the powerful are mindful of the rights of the vulnerable. Opposition to the trans-Atlantic slave trade became an irresistible force when the British public no longer accepted Africans as objects to be traded - as the rallying cry of the abolitionists put it, ‘Am I not a man and a brother?’ Objects do not have human rights; a man and a brother do.

The trans-Atlantic slave trade ended, but slavery has a nasty habit of making a comeback, albeit in subtle and variegated hues. The powerful are too often prone to exploit the vulnerable, prone to ignore the rights of the weak in pursuit of a ‘greater good’. Surrogacy is a case in point.

By definition no class of human is as vulnerable as the new born child. A baby is entirely dependent on those more powerful than itself and its every desire is oriented towards the one person most able to satisfy its needs: the mother. The human rights of the infant are denied if it is taken from the care, protection and love of its mother. This is why we only remove babies from their mothers in extreme circumstances - if the safety of the infant would in fact be compromised by being with its mother. It is why we regard cases of mothers abandoning their babies as tragic. The rights of the vulnerable child are paramount: the most basic of those is the right to be with its mother.

Surrogacy denies this fundamental right. The baby is removed from what it most wants and desires and placed into the care of alternative ‘parents’. Typically this is done in exchange for money. What the child wants is ignored in favour of what the powerful desire. That this is a form of human trafficking should be obvious. It is a type of slavery.

To compare surrogacy with slavery in this way is shocking. Respectable, morally upright people applaud surrogacy: after all, the children produced by surrogacy are not being raised to slave on a sugar plantation but typically live pampered lives, fawned upon by their doting parents. But extend the analogy: what if rather than brutal transportation across the Atlantic and brutal plantation labour African slaves had been pampered and cossetted across the sea and offered every chance of a better life in the new world? Would that have made slavery acceptable - desirable even? No. We would still regard the forced tearing of someone from their motherland against their will as objectionable. It would be to disregard their rights. How is the tearing of an infant, not from its motherland but from its very mother, morally different?

A truly humane, civilised society would find surrogacy intolerable. It would have regard to the rights - and cries - of the child. It would see the baby not as an object but as a person with desires of its own. It would open its eyes, and act. A society that does not do this but that permits, even celebrates, surrogacy is a society that trades in human lives. We need to open our eyes.


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