Despite the lousy working conditions, it's estimated that about sixty women in Canada are employed as surrogates, carrying babies for infertile couples for a fee, plus medical expenses. That's not a large number, but it's significant enough to have prompted the federal government to draft legislation - to be introduced as early as next year - that bans advertising for surrogacy and bans women from making a profit from surrogacy.
Already the lawyers and the fertility specialists are nervous. After all, there's big money to be made from desperation, whether it's the infertile or gay couple that want a baby, or the surrogate mother who needs the cash.
Advocates for the legalization of surrogacy say it's a win-win situation and that regulating the practice will prevent women from being exploited. And, anyway, doesn't a woman have the right to control her own body and use it as she pleases? If she chooses to rent her uterus for a profit, what business is that of the government?
Actually, the right to control our own bodies is not absolute. We can't drive without a seatbelt or shoot heroin or sell our organs. Nor are the ethics of surrogacy that simple. This isn't merely an issue of reproductive choice, or a woman's right to abort or carry a pregnancy to term, to keep her child or give it up for adoption.
It's an issue of whether a woman can be contractually bound to sell the product of her pregnancy, otherwise known as a human being, once she's given birth.
In cases in which the surrogate mother has one of her own eggs inseminated by the contracted father's sperm, that really is the crux of it. The biological father is buying the biological mother's parental rights.
By contrast, in cases of adoption, a biological mother is given a grace period following the birth in which she can change her mind and she is, of course, forbidden to earn a fee for relinquishing her baby.
The other type of arrangement, in which the surrogate mother carries another couple's embryo and has no genetic link to the child, is no less fraught. While renting out one's womb might seem like the ultimate in female entrepreneurship, in fact, the contracting of pregnancy could greatly undermine women's freedom of choice.
Much of the case for reproductive choice rests on the belief that the pregnancy cannot be separated from the woman and that a fetus, at least for a good long while, is not an independent being from its mother. Therefore, women cannot be compelled by their husbands, or boyfriends, or families to carry babies to term if they don't wish to, nor can they be forced to undergo fetal surgery or an amniocentesis or have their diet or lifestyle policed during a pregnancy.
A surrogacy agreement could give the biological father (and biological mother, too) the right to do these very things to the surrogate mother, setting a dangerous precedent for all women.
Amplifying this power imbalance is the typical economic disparity between the contracting parents and the surrogate mother.
While many surrogates argue that they do it to help infertile couples, if altruism really is the motivation, why don't they do it for free? Surrogacy is pregnancy as piecework and you don't need daycare.
As one Canadian woman recently told The Globe and Mail, surrogacy is "something that I can do from home and I don't have to leave my children."
If surrogacy does become more acceptable, who's to say that poor women won't be pressured by their families, the government, or their own dire straits to put their idle uteruses to good and profitable use, just as the poor in some developing nations have begun selling their kidneys, often with horrifying results, to wealthy foreigners.
When babies become products to be bought and sold, all humanity is cheapened.
When women become human incubators and pregnancy becomes a service, female autonomy is compromised.
There's no denying the anguish of those who long for a child, but other options exist, like adoption and foster care, and making those processes simpler and more accessible is the far more humane solution. Surrogacy only remedies suffering for those wealthy enough to pay for a baby, after all. And the privilege of having children shouldn't be determined by the highest bidder.