An Idaho woman named Brooke who was serving as a surrogate died October 8, along with the twins she was carrying, due to pregnancy complications. Brooke was reportedly carrying twins for a couple from Spain, where surrogacy is illegal. According to the GoFundMe page set up to raise money for her memorial service, Brooke was “a surrogate mother to five babies.”
The market for surrogate mothers is booming in the U.S. and worldwide. Although statistics are difficult to find, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that babies born to surrogates grew 89 percent between 2004 and 2008. But the growing economy of children has put an increasing number of women, particularly low-income women, at risk. Brooke is the first known U.S. woman to die from surrogate pregnancy, but many others have died throughout the world.
Women’s advocacy groups have pointed out that the market for children focuses entirely on the “end product,” aka the child, without taking proper steps to care for the mother. “These mostly low-income women are injected with powerful hormones and other drugs to maximize chances of pregnancy, virtually without government oversight,” says Jennifer Lahl, president of the Center for Bioethics and Culture Network, which believes that surrogacy should be outlawed in the U.S. “Women didn’t get this far to be treated like breeding animals.”
My heart breaks for Brooke, for her children, and for the couple expecting to raise the twins. But in the face of deaths such as Brooke’s, it’s hard not to lament the growing commodification of the womb. To chalk up Brooke’s death to an occupational hazard seems to make an industry of childbirth. But children are not commodities, and women’s bodies are not factories—and we should oppose cultural practices that treat them as such.