Last month, film director Jonathon Narducci released Ghosts of the Republique, a full length documentary that chronicles a French gay couple’s international surrogacy journey.
We first meet bright eyed, soft spoken Nicolas and Aurelian as they prepare for their wedding day, two gentle, charming souls who share genuine affection and desire nothing but to live freely and openly and to pursue the same life goals as anyone else.
One of those goals, of course, is to start a family. The camera effectively captures their extended family’s collective grief at the prospect of a future without grandchildren, zeroing in on tearstained faces and sorrowful expressions, cueing the empathetic viewer to conclude, “It’s only right for these lovely people to have children. What’s wrong with that?”
The film’s emotional puppeteering continues as we are invited to consider the extreme discrimination gay couples face when trying to adopt children in France. The red tape, we are told, is so extreme that it’s virtually impossible for same sex couples to adopt. The only remaining path to parenthood is through commercial surrogacy, which is strictly forbidden in France. Children born through surrogacy contracts are not recognized as French citizens. When identified, they’re often removed from the homes of the intended parents and appointed wards of the state, regularly referred to as “ghosts of the republique.”
But it’s a gamble Nicolas and Aurelian are willing to take in order to make their family complete. So they travel across the globe to the gambling capital of the world, Las Vegas, in pursuit of the perfect egg donor and surrogate mother for their desired designer baby. The egg donor must meet specific physical criteria; she must be pretty with red hair and preferably tall. “We didn’t choose an ugly one,” we hear Nicolas assuring a family member. If the baby is determined to have down syndrome, they will likely abort; they only want the baby if it’s good looking and healthy.
The couple finds a near perfect match for their criteria- a 23 year old perky young woman named Diana who is eager to earn some money while helping to create a family. “It won’t really be my baby,” she seems to reassure herself. “It will be a part of me that I gift to you.”
As the film continues, we see Diana realizing egg donation is a lot more involved than she originally thought. “I walked into it thinking, ‘I’m gonna give them my egg, and they’re gonna have a baby.’ But it’s a lot more than that. There’s a lot more that takes effect on my body. When you find out that your body produces 13 or 22 eggs, it’s like, ‘Normally that would have taken my body 13 months or 22 months,” she admits.
The film seems to breeze right by this reality, stopping briefly for a word of caution from Center for Bioethics and Culture President Jennifer Lahl, “The industry is happy having us clueless and unaware. We still haven’t done one long term study on the long term effects of egg donation and fertility drugs on otherwise healthy young women. We know there’s risks to fertility drugs, but we still move full speed ahead without any empirical or peer reviewed data to help women make this decision.”
It’s a warning that’s largely ignored as the film glosses right over it to showcase how altruistic and even heroic the contributions like Diana are to couples like Nicolas and Aurelian.
Enter Crystal, the woman whose womb Diana’s fertilized egg is ultimately planted inside. Early in the film, we hear Nicolas expressing some of his former reservations about surrogacy: he thought it was for rich people who were willing to exploit the desperation of poor women. But Crystal is neither desperate nor particularly poor. In fact, she’s eager to help. She enjoys being pregnant, and since the egg is not her own DNA, it’s not her baby they’re stripping from her.
This doesn’t feel like the exploitation extremist activists warned about. When baby Louise is finally born, everything is golden. Parenthood is a human right, and Crystal is a saint helping to facilitate it. The problematic people are the bigots and naysayers standing in the way. Nick and Aurelian are the truly oppressed people in this scenario. “We come from a country that’s supposed to be respectful of peoples’ rights,” Aurelian laments.
He comes so awfully close to getting it. But in the entire 80 minute film, there is one group of people whose rights are never considered, not even once- the rights of the children born of these arrangements. Not once did they consider the fact that little Louise would be forced to grow up without either of her two mothers. Not once did they consider the potential long term emotional effects of stripping an infant from its sole source of comfort and protection for nine months. An entire generation of donor-conceived adults is starting to speak up about the rights denied to them, and their stories are heartbreaking. Unfortunately, they’re not often featured in films created for political agendas that benefit #BigFertility.
True to French law, little Louise has been denied French citizenship. At any given moment, this little girl could be ripped from her dads’ care and placed with strangers. No one seemed to care too much about that. They expected the law to bend to accommodate their desires rather than, like good parents, adjusting their desires to benefit the child.
And whether or not the women involved were willing participants in their own harm, as Jennifer Lahl aptly put it, “There’s no way to dress it up and make it ethical. A surrogate pregnancy has risks to it that a natural pregnancy doesn’t have. We’re learning now that women pregnant with donor eggs have higher rates of pre-eclampsia and hypertension. We’re learning as we go at the harm of children, who are basically being used as guinea pigs. This is one of the largest social experiments of our time.”
It’s a social experiment with an untold number of victims. If we don’t slow down to consider the bigger picture, the voices of the ghosts of the republique (and a myriad other victims of commercial surrogacy contracts) will one day haunt us.
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