The Nobel Peace Prize they'll never give

Michael Cook
14 Oct 2014
Reproduced with Permission

I was delighted to see the Nobel Peace Prize go to Malala Yousafzai, of Pakistan, and Kailash Satyarthi, of India.

Malala is only 17 and is still wearing a school uniform, but she has been a voice for girls' education in backward areas of Pakistan for five years. In that time, however short, she did more to advance the cause of peace than some other recent recipients. Taking a bullet in her head, for one thing. Courage under fire was not on the list of accomplishments when President Barack Obama was summoned to Stockholm after eight months in office. It is also pleasing to see a devout Muslim as a laureate, demonstrating that the fanatics who shot her are a minority in the Islamic world.

The organisation founded by the other laureate for 2014, Kailash Satyarthi , has freed nearly 80,000 children from slavery and indentured labour. He, too, has scars to show courage under fire. When he tried to free trafficked Nepalese teenagers who were working as dancing girls, he was attacked with iron bars and cricket bats.

In most of the Peace Prize awards, there is always more than a whiff of political balancing. The laureate becomes a tool for the Norwegians on the Nobel Peace Prize committee to make a none-too-subtle rebuke to a villain. Barack Obama was a two-fingered salute to George W. Bush and his War on Terror and Malala was a raspberry to Islamic fundamentalism.

So let's do a mental experiment. Will the prize panjandrums ever have the courage to tackle one of the big human rights issues of the first half of our century, commercial surrogacy?

Last week the Australian media uncovered yet another surrogacy scandal after the Baby Gammy case . This time a couple abandoned a twin in India because it was the "wrong" sex. Apparently a senior politician leaned on Australian consular staff to expedite the adoption - and the abandonment.

In the murky world of commercial surrogacy the rights of both the children and the mother are clearly at risk. Two senior Australian judges have now called for a national inquiry. "I've spent many sleepless nights. I've heard things and I've seen things that I really don't think anyone should see ... and I find it deeply distressing that nothing is being done about the issue," says the Chief Judge of the Federal Circuit Court, John Pascoe.

Some politicians in the Council of Europe are also petitioning for an inquiry. Their motion sums the issue up quite well:

"Surrogacy undermines the human dignity of the woman carrier as her body and its reproductive function are used as a commodity … The unregulated nature of surrogacy poses additional concerns regarding the exploitation of women in disadvantaged positions and fertility tourism resulting in a black market of 'baby selling'.

"The practice of surrogacy also disregards the rights and human dignity of the child by effectively turning the baby in question into a product. The Convention on the Rights of the Child declares that children have a right to be protected from abuse or exploitation and calls on States to act in the best interest of the child. Surrogacy arrangements turn the baby into a commodity to be bought and sold. Moreover, surrogacy manipulates the identity and parentage of children and robs them of any claim to their gestational carrier, which recent research points to being harmful to the development and wellbeing of the baby."

I hope that the Nobel Peace Prize committee is listening. But I fear that it is not.

The reason is simple: it would offend supporters of same-sex parenting. Every Nobel Peace Prize needs both an acclaimed hero and a despised anti-hero. If the or Jennifer Lahl's Center for Bioethics and Culture or Alana Newman's Anonymous Us Project , were the hero, who would be the anti-hero?

It would have to be gay couples who wanted to become parents.

I can say, without fear of contradiction, that this is the fastest growing segment of the market for surrogate children around the world. Until their governments imposed severe restrictions on overseas adoptions of surrogate children, most of the clients at many IVF clinics in India and Thailand were gay couples. Now the market is shifting to Central and South America .

I wonder whether any of the numerous American judges who have struck down prohibitions on same-sex marriage in recent months have given a moment's thought to the colossal increase in human rights abuses which will follow a blow-out in gay couples' demand for surrogate mothers and their children.