Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Teresa Forcades on surrogacy and the commodification of women's bodies

By Roberta Trucco (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Che libertà (in italiano)
December 12, 2015

Teresa Forcades is a Benedictine nun of Catalan origin, with graduate and doctoral degrees in Medicine and Theology, with a specialization in internal medicine awarded in N.Y. and a master's degree in theology from Harvard University. With Arcadi Oliveres, a Catalan economist, she founded the political movement Proces Constituent in Catalunya. Her popularity was set when she published a book on the crimes of the pharmaceutical companies and when she started taking positions counter to dominant thinking, both within the Church institution and in contemporary political debate. Last summer, [the Italian edition of] her book La teologia femminista nella storia ("Feminist Theology in History") was published. Convinced that the feminist perspective is one of the most authentic for interpreting the epochal transformation we are experiencing, we have opened a dialogue with her on one of the issues that most relates to this transformation -- surrogate motherhood.

Teresa, you immediately joined the Se non ora quando – Libere ("If not now when - Freedom") petition [against surrogate motherhood]. Why?

The practice of wombs for rent is part of a worldview that considers that everything can become a commodity, even a child. I'm profoundly opposed to this system. Today, any and all services are being privatized -- education, health care, schools, issues that correspond to the needs of human beings and have to do with who we are. In recent years, we've become accustomed to the fact that these issues are compatible with business. We live in a world where there are people who are in dire need of money and people who are in extreme abundance. In this context, it's very important to have a clear and deep discussion about wombs for rent. We must be aware of the kind of pressure we're exerting on women who have no money and have no other way to earn it, because that is how we're creating the conditions for prostitution. This is not called free will, but necessity.

In Canada, however, surrogacy can be done for free, i.e. a woman isn't paid ...

From a theoretical point of view, if an adult gives consent to do something that concerns only themselves, I believe it's right to respect their freedom of choice. But if disposing of one's own body is made legal, you should also clarify the limit. In truth, between a mother and her child there is a space which no one can have. I believe that the relationship of the fetus to the mother is what builds the basis of the child's psyche; from there comes the ability to understand intimacy and to develop an understanding of who we are as human beings. The human being isn't a cell that develops and then is open to relationship. From the first day of conception, the intrauterine relationship governs the development of the child. Immediately a single unique being is created that is shaped because it is in relationship. Life is not conceivable without relationship. Being is "communion" and this idea, of course, is the result of my faith and my understanding of life, and I can argue it from Christian religion but it can also be argued from a psychological point of view and also in medical terms. From the medical point of view, the mother/child relationship has to do with the development of the fetus from the moment of conception. For example, the mother's voice transmits vibrations through her body and these vibrations are unique for each mother. The sound produced by the voice corresponds to the production of hormones that will be passed to the fetus. If the mother's voice is tired or depressed or scared, adrenaline will be produced; when the mother is happy and relaxed, the internal vibrations produce beneficial hormones, endorphins. The fetus receives sound thanks to the vibrations of the uterus and amniotic fluid and it receives them in its body which then one day it will recognize as limited to it body -- so it receives something from outside that it feels inside and therefore suddenly communications space is created, development space, and this is space we can't dispose of. You can't take this space and dispose of it a priori, that is, establish that this space is cut off completely after nine months. Many children experience this discontinuity because the mother dies, abandons them or rejects them. But this is an eventuality of life that isn't planned; you can't deliberately choose this discontinuity a priori.

So the first thing is to ban economic speculation on women's bodies, but even if the woman is completely free to choose and not under pressure, free from any form of commodification, I don't think it's right for a company, a state, a law to arrange to dispose of what can not be disposed of.

Many call the practice of surrogacy "gestation for others." What do you think about that?

Calling it GFO is manipulation; it's leading people with words to think of the concept of surrogacy as a good thing. An example: you can't make the child a donor for another child; it's forbidden because it's using a human being - maybe for a beautiful thing - but human beings can not be used. Human beings are self-determining and when they can't be so completely yet because they're children, this condition should be respected. We can't dispose of their bodies and their beings as we like; we need to respect this condition of the formation of their self-determination through and through.

But then what about abortion?

I think that a woman has a limit to her choice to abort within 5 months. You can't abort in the sixth month in fact. Before the five months there are no chances of survival for the baby and I think that we can't force a woman to carry the pregnancy to term. You can't save the life of the fetus without jeopardizing the rights of the mother. So only in the case of abortion there is the problem of choosing for the fetus, it's true. Then you need to ask yourself if we want a state to force a woman to choose for the child. In this case, only in this case, I lean towards the mother. I believe we can't use people -- you can't make the mother a means for the child's life but at the same time, and this applies to the practice of surrogacy, you can't make the child an instrument of desire either.

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