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Genetics has often been treated as determinative in the assignation of parental rights, because it is believed that genes are what give children their individual and unique traits, characteristics, and helps to form their identities. Gestational surrogate mothers may thus be considered not to be contributing anything physical to fetal development, aside from care and feeding. It is argued, as in Johnson v. Calvert, that the surrogate makes no contribution to the physical features, behavior, etc., of the child and therefore has no justification to argue for parental rights over the child.[25]However, this view is far from unanimous in the U.S. or internationally. For example, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) maintains that gestation, and not genetics, determines motherhood.

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Some feminists argue that legalizing surrogacy would help liberate women by de-biologizing motherhood. Women could become mothers without having to go through pregnancy and birth. On the other hand, it is argued, especially by religious and conservative opponents, that surrogacy violates a natural maternal instinct and bonding thereby undermining the structure of the nuclear family. Even some former surrogates, such as Mary Beth Whitehead, invoke the language of maternal instinct and essentialized motherhood, instead of feminism, to oppose surrogacy.[22]

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While surrogacy in general raises a host of social and ethical problems, I believe that commercial surrogacy in particular can crystallize the difficulties that many people have with surrogacy, and help us get to the core of how surrogacy affects our understanding of motherhood. Commercialization, and its use of market rhetoric, treats surrogacy as a service arrangement between a number of individuals, leading to the creation of a product and the transfer of rights to that product. In the law in the U.S., this is represented in the form of contracts signed by the commissioning couple and the surrogate mother. In exchange for between $10,000 and $15,000, the surrogate mother (and usually her partner) agree to abstain from intercourse for a number of months, submit to regular and extensive medical exams, and agree to transfer parental rights to the couple once the child is born.

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Nevertheless, according to Rothman, motherhood resists commodification. This is particularly evident in the difficulty that many women go through in deciding to have an abortion. They cannot maintain the medical language, but instead often use the language of infanticide, grief, and responsibility. With respect to surrogacy, not all women are able to alienate themselves from their pregnancies. Some women, such as Mary Beth Whitehead, change their minds when they realize that they cannot go through with the process of giving up their child to another couple. They cannot put price tags on their children, and cannot commodify their motherhood.[42] It is therefore unclear that surrogacy in particular devalues motherhood, even though it changes the way mothers view themselves and are viewed by others.

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Market rhetoric collapses the natural properties of the product into culturally defined qualities, making them one with the object being presented for social consumption; the market analogy tends to also collapse all other concepts or metaphors into market rhetoric, e.g., “products of conception” or the “fertility industry”. The focus is not on motherhood or fatherhood, but on the creation of children. Issues of money, cost of treatment and services, and so forth are always present in the background in discussions of reproductive technologies. The commodification of reproduction is clearly seen in the development of surrogate motherhood – services are bought and body parts rented as if the woman in which these parts reside did not exist.

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