8. Birthing Bodies, Pregnant Selves: Gestational Surrogates, Intended Mothers, and Distributed Maternity in Israel
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112 8 Birthing Bodies, Pregnant Selves Gestational Surrogates, Intended Mothers, and Distributed Maternity in Israel Elly Teman One of the primary issues theorized in academic and policy debates about surrogate motherhood is the deconstruction of the perceived unity of the maternal role into at least three potential mothers: genetic, gestational, and social. This ambiguous definition of maternity has challenged policymakers in determining whether surrogacy contracts should be legalized and enforced (Cook, et al. 2003; Markens 2007). The case of gestational surrogacy in Israel is particularly interesting because Israel is one of only a handful of countries that has legalized the practice, and because it is the first in the world to pass a specific state law that allows for a state-appointed committee to supervise each and every surrogacy agreement carried out between its citizens. This committee screens all applicants both psychologically and medically and oversees the contract; any arrangements that do not go through the committee ’s approval are criminalized. The law, passed in 1996, is a fascinating cultural artifact as it was significantly influenced by government interests in preserving national boundaries, as well as rabbinical interests in keeping the practice in line with Jewish law. In contrast to the global commercial market of international surrogacy, the Israeli law permits contracts only between Israeli citizens and aims to keep surrogacy extremely limited in practice. The patriarchal law does not encourage the establishment of alternative families but allows only the creation of nuclear, patrilineal families with heterosexual, married partners, in which the husband is necessarily fertile and the intended mother can prove that she has strong medical grounds for hiring a surrogate. While donor ova can be used, the intended father in the surrogacy contract must provide the sperm. Neither single women and men nor homosexual couples can apply to hire a surrogate. The committee has made its criteria so strict over the years that it has become increasingly difficult for couples to find a surrogate who Birthing Bodies, Pregnant Selves   113 will not be disqualified. A potential surrogate can currently be disqualified if she has been a surrogate twice before, has given birth twice by Cesarean, has given birth to four babies, has gestational diabetes, has experienced early-term births, has taken antidepressants, or has received certain types of plastic surgery in the past. Intended parents are medically and psychologically screened as well and must prove that surrogacy is their last resort. In order to gain the committee’s approval, the intended mother must provide medical documents proving that she does not have a uterus, that her life is endangered by pregnancy, that she has undergone at least eight failed attempts to become pregnant through in-vitro fertilization (IVF), or that she has had at least seven miscarriages. In this study, all of the intended mothers had been trying to have a child for a long time. Because IVF is subsidized by the state, it was not uncommon for the intended mothers to have undergone many more rounds of IVF than the committee requires before giving up that avenue and turning to surrogacy. Religious concerns about the illegitimacy of the child according to Jewish law led to the requirement that surrogates be single, widowed, or divorced even though the intended parents must be married (some rabbis could consider a child born by a married surrogate to a married man who is not her husband to be the product of adultery). Because Jewish law sees the religion of the child as determined by the religion of the birth mother, the surrogate must be of the same religious denomination as both intended parents, and the committee will consider an interreligious agreement only if all the parties are not Jewish. And since some rabbis may consider a surrogate carrying an embryo created from her brother’s sperm to be incest, the surrogacy law does not allow any genetic relation between the surrogate and the intended parents. The surrogacy law also prohibits traditional surrogacy, in which the surrogate is the genetic mother of the baby, instead allowing only gestational surrogacy that is dependent on IVF technology. The Israeli surrogacy law and its relationship to Jewish law is a fascinating subject for anthropological analysis, but it has been elaborated elsewhere (Kahn 2000; Teman 2010b; Weisberg 2005). Here I wish to explore the experiences of persons immediately involved in the surrogacy agreements that have resulted from that law. In particular, I draw on anthropological fieldwork I conducted in Israel between 1998 and 2006, which included...


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Subject Headings

  • Human reproductive technology -- Middle East.
  • Human reproductive technology -- Africa, North.
  • Birth control -- Middle East.
  • Birth control -- Africa, North.
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