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Assisted Reproduction

An Anthropologist Looks At What Motivates Surrogates

Are surrogates motivated by money, altruism or a combination of both? According to an Israeli anthropologist, the latter:

Elly Teman, an Israeli anthropologist at the University of Pennsylvania, has been researching this question — and other issues relating to surrogacy — for the past decade. In her recently published Birthing a Mother: The Surrogate Body and the Pregnant Self, Teman explores the cultural assumptions about surrogacy, debunking some along the way, as well as misunderstandings that surround the controversial process.

“There is a common belief that surrogate mothers bond with the baby they carry, and later decide to keep it,” she said in a recent interview. “The truth is that less than one-tenth of 1 percent of cases end up in court. Surrogates don’t bond with the babies. They bond with the women — the women they are making into mothers.”

Teman’s research focused on Israel, one of the few countries where surrogacy is legal and also tightly regulated. Unlike in the United States, where surrogacy is legal only in select states, close distances between the surrogate and the intended mother in Israel meant that the women were constantly interacting.

Teman also said that her research — which was conducted between the years 1998 and 2006 — was made possible because of Israel’s liberal approach to the issue. The state’s Jewish character, she noted, caused it to go “very far” in legislating surrogacy.

“Surrogates are doing it for the money and for the mitzvah,” she said. “These two don’t contradict each other, and they don’t take away from each other. That’s sometimes hard for people to digest.

“People think that if there’s money involved, then it’s a business transaction, and if there is no money, then it’s a mitzvah. But the surrogate gives more than money can buy.”

Professor Teman’s research is very consistent with my experience and I am looking forward to reviewing the entire study.


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