The Legitimation of Commercial Surrogacy in Russia
Commodification is becoming an increasingly common phenomenon in the modern world. A vivid example of the commodification of unique objects is commercial surrogacy services, which transform the status of motherhood from being a “woman’s social vocation” into a service whose end product is a human life that is valued in monetary terms. According to Igor Kopytoff, blurring the boundary between goods and unique objects can undermine the social order (Kopytoff 2006). However, gainful surrogacy has not in fact undermined the social order, which raises the question of how the functioning and legitimate existence of such a service can be assured in society. The authors of the present article have analyzed 14 interviews with employees at Moscow reproductive clinics and agencies that provide legal support services for surrogate mothers. We demonstrate on the basis of this analysis that the way in which the child’s status is determined and the potential parents and surrogate mothers are selected as well as how the relations between the genetic parents and the surrogate mother are regulated confirm the notion of kinship that was pioneered in the Euro-American theory of David Schneider. This concept is based on the idea that kinship relations are determined primarily by the presence of a common genetic substance and only secondly by social relations that are based on specific patterns of behavior in the family (Schneider 1980). This implies that genetic kinship is of primary importance to how ideas about kinship relationships are developed, while at the same time it implies that ideas about gestational kinship are not believed to be as important. Thus, the belief of employees at clinics and agencies that the genetic link between parents and children predominates over the gestational relationship makes it possible to legitimize the practice of gainful surrogacy in general and certain aspects of the procedure by which the service is provided in particular by decommodifying the child so that he or she is no longer the object of a commercial transaction.