Wet nursing is a cow of a job, say bioethicists

Now that gay marriage has become legal in France, there may be commercial opportunities for les nourrices. A 29-year-old nurse has posted an advertisement on a French version of Craigslist, offering to rent out her breasts to gay couples for 100 Euros a day, guaranteeing at least 10 feeds for a baby.

The sale of breast milk is illegal in France, but not wet nursing, which is regarded as a service.

This is precisely the kind of commercial transaction which Canadian bioethicists Françoise Baylis and Ryan Tonkens have condemned as demeaning and exploitative in the Dalhousie University blog Impact Ethics.

“The practice of including breast milk in pregnancy contracts is perhaps a harbinger of things to come. In the extreme, we can imagine the role of women working under contract for intending parents expanding significantly. Their list of contractual duties could include: providing gametes; accepting embryo transfer; carrying the developing fetus(es) to term; doing all that is necessary during the pregnancy to ensure fetal health; birthing the neonate(s) following a birth plan dictated by the intending parents; providing breast milk to nourish the newborn infant(s); providing child care services; and when the child(ren) is/are sleeping or being entertained by the legal parents, perhaps do a little housekeeping and cooking; and so on.”

Commercialisation has already made great advances in this area. They point out that in the US, commercial surrogacy contracts sometimes include breastfeeding. Internet breast milk can be purchased for prices ranging from 50 cents to $3 an ounce. As breast milk is considered to be a food in US law, it can be bought and sold, unlike other bodily substances like blood. Baylis and Tonkens argue that this is wrong.

”Is there anything morally wrong with reducing parenting to a legal relationship, while others bear, birth, nourish, and care for the children one claims to parent? Our short answer to this question is yes.” 

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