Surrogacy: What's the Big Deal?
Welcome to this, the second of a four-part series on reproductive technology! If you haven't already, check out my first post discussing where I'm coming from along with a Biblical example.
I have spent a lot of time trying to puzzle out the best way to approach reproductive technology. The problem is this: there are a lot of different options and they tend to be all mixed up together.
This post is going to deal mainly with surrogacy, a topic I am frequently asked to weigh in on. I will also briefly touch on donor eggs/sperm as well as IVF (in vitro fertilization). If you have questions about donor eggs/sperm or IVF, hold off until those posts come out.
I tend to really irritate people when it comes to surrogacy. Someone will come up to me and share that they're currently a surrogate carrying a child for another couple or they'll share that they have retained a surrogate to carry a child for them. They seem awfully put out when I don't get excited about the process. What kind of pro-life person doesn't get excited about babies?
There also seems to be this idea that I think children born from surrogacy arrangements are somehow flawed or inhuman. The response to my opinion can be an outburst of something like, "Well, my granddaughter was born through a surrogate and we're happy to have her!"
Here's the issue. I love babies, I really do. I have dedicated my life to protecting them and the mothers who carry them. There are some serious issues with surrogacy, however, and I believe as pro-life believers we need to address them. That doesn't mean that someone born of surrogacy is not a human, it just means that there are ethical problems with the process that need to be discussed.
First of all, we need to address the belief that we are entitled to have children. The Bible says many things about children. They are a reward and a responsibility. They are not, however, a right. There is no Biblical guarantee that a couple, whether or not they're living according to God's law, will have children.
As Christians, we need to realize that not all of us are called to have children. And, that's OK. If God has not blessed you with children it's not because you're sinful or you would be a bad parent, it's because He has another plan for you.
Christians are not supposed to make idols of anything, even children, and if having children has become all-consuming for you then it's time to take a step back and listen to what God has for your life. Infertility is an extremely difficult subject, especially for people who very much want to have children but are unable to do so. Some people facing infertility, like the biblical example discussed two weeks ago, decide to use a surrogate mother.
Essentially, a surrogate (or gestational carrier) is a woman who carries a baby to term for someone else. Sometimes she uses her own eggs and the intended father's sperm. Other times she uses the intended parents' egg and sperm, the intended mother's egg and donor sperm, or both a donor egg and sperm.
When the pregnancy is complete and the baby is delivered he or she is turned over to the intended parents. The "intended parents" are the couple or individual(s) that commissioned the baby. In many cases, this is the last contact the surrogate has with the child.
What's the motivation? Sometimes parents want a child of their own and can't have one. Sometimes they're a homosexual couple who can't carry a child. Sometimes they don't want to be encumbered with a pregnancy or wish to be a single father.
For the surrogate, or gestational carrier, there is usually a significant financial incentive. Surrogates can earn tens of thousands of dollars for carrying a baby to term. During this process, their medical bills are covered and they can help provide for their families. In the United States, these women often choose surrogacy as a way to earn income while staying home with their own children.
So, what's the problem? Seems like a great deal. Right?
First, in the case of surrogacy the focus isn't the wishes or well-being of the child, it's the intended parents. What do they want? Do they want a boy? Or, a girl? Will they be happy with a child with disabilities or does the child need to be perfect? When should the child be born and how much do they want to pay for him/her?
When someone commissions a child to be created the child becomes a product. Children are not things. You can't go onto Amazon and order one and you shouldn't be able to order one through a surrogacy company either. When researching this topic, I kept running into websites that boasted they had the "cheapest" place to hire a surrogate. Or, others that indicated their surrogates were "high quality." Is this really how conceiving and bearing a child should be discussed?
The surrogacy arrangement is typically governed by a contract. What happens if the intended parents want one child but two embryos "take" or one of them twins? The surrogate may be expected to have an abortion (in this case it's usually referred to as a "selective reduction" because they select a child to kill and leave the other alone). What if the child has a disability? The surrogate may be expected to have an abortion.
It's interesting that the "my body, my choice" mantra so commonly heard when discussing abortion breaks down when discussing surrogacy. It's clear that in this case the issue isn't the mother's choice, it's the desires of the intended parent for specific traits in their offspring. If a surrogate refuses to abort she may not be paid, her medical bills may no longer be covered, and she may end up being responsible for the child in her womb.
Other things can happen too. What happens if the intended parents die? Or, they break up? What if they change their mind and don't want the child any more? What happens then? The child has no attachment with his/her biological parents and is being carried by someone who has been paid to do so. Where does the child belong? Who takes care of him/her? This is even more complicated when surrogacy happens internationally or when donor eggs and sperm are used.
In surrogacy (especially commercial surrogacy, where the surrogate is paid for her services), the child has become a commodity. Something one person "ordered" and another person is being paid to fulfill. In fact, surrogacy is so problematic that many countries have banned commercial surrogacy altogether. Nepal and India used to be hot spots for commercial surrogacy. Intended parents could pay a surrogate there much less than they could in the United States, which made them very attractive. However, because of the abusive nature of the practice these countries, along with others, have now outlawed it.
Buying and selling humans is illegal, as it should be. What is commercial surrogacy other than buying a baby?
Maybe you're thinking, "Ok, Sarah. I get that. It's not really ethical for people to order children like pizza. But surely there are good situations. What if it's my sister? Or, my best friend? Is surrogacy OK then?"
When a child is conceived and carried for nine months inside a woman's body, who is that child bonded with? Who's voice are they familiar with and who's heartbeat lulls them to sleep at night? What foods will taste familiar to them in breast milk? Not the intended mother's, the surrogate's. Surrogacy means that you're implanting a child into a woman with (possibly) no biological connection who intends to immediately turn the child over to someone the child has not bonded with at all.
While I was considering this issue, I kept coming back to adoption. What's the difference? Certainly there is a difference at conception, but what about after that? The only answer I can come to is this: intent.
The intention of surrogacy is to carry a child for someone else and give them to that someone else shortly after birth. Even if a connection is maintained, and maybe in some cases it is, the mother that the child has known for nine months is not going to raise and nurture that child. One of the most basic human bonds is broken. This bond is broken not because it's the only option, but because that's how the adults in the situation get what they want.
With adoption, a pregnancy is often begun accidentally. The mother doesn't intend to become pregnant, and she isn't ready to care for a child. In some cases, the state has decided she is unfit to parent and the child must be placed elsewhere.
I believe that everyone understands that adoption is not the best case scenario. The best case scenario is for children to be raised in their biological parents' home - as long as that home is warm, nurturing, and loving.
Adoption is something that is done to provide the best possible situation for a child that already exists, and to ensure that this child's needs are met. Surrogacy is different. The process is begun to benefit an adult. An adult wants a child and decides that surrogacy is the best way to achieve their objective.
The ethical issues with surrogacy are deeper than just the intention of the parents/intended parents. The problems begin with conception. In order to use a surrogate mother, doctors typically must use artificial insemination or in vitro fertilization.
Artificial insemination adds a new layer of complexity because now the surrogate is carrying a child that is biologically hers, but she has conceived him/her/them intending to give them to someone else. Far from an unplanned pregnancy, this child was conceived with the intention of separating him/her/them from his/her/their biological family.
Even if the surrogate is related to the intended parents, it doesn't add up. My children are not my sister's children, and it would be wrong for me to create a child inside of me with her husband's sperm. Even if the surrogate and the intended mother are identical twins, they're not the same person.
In vitro fertilization is also problematic. Perhaps the intended parents' eggs and sperm are used and their biological child is placed inside the surrogate mother. First, we still have the problem of intentionally conceiving a child to be separated from his/her birth mother. Second, there are physical risks to children conceived through in vitro fertilization - many of them do not survive. Further, there is a selection process that embryos (babies) must go through and the undesirable ones are typically discarded (more on this later).
So, surrogacy. Pro-life or not?
My opinion is this: surrogacy is not a pro-life or ethically appropriate option. Children are treasures and they deserve to be treated as such. They are not commodities and we don't get to have one just because we want one.
So, what do we do about this? First, if you're struggling to conceive, take surrogacy off the table. You may not ever consider contracting with an impoverished woman who will be exploited by the process (such as what has been happening in Ukraine) but perhaps you were thinking a family member could help you achieve your dream. Put that away, don't think about it, and don't view it as an option. If someone close to you offers, politely assure them that you are seeking an ethical option.
Second, talk about it. Many people are afraid to bring it up because they don't want to hurt or offend. Without talking about it we can't educate. If someone in your circle is interested in or considering surrogacy, point them to some good resources and offer to help them research.
What if you or someone you know has already begun the process? Stay tuned, we'll be talking about dealing with frozen embryos soon. Is your biological or intended child already growing in another woman's body? Treat the surrogate mother with the utmost care and watch over your child's emotions as they enter your custody. Be honest with him/her as they grow. Has your child already been born through surrogacy? Love them, tell them the truth, and help them meet their surrogate if that's possible and appropriate.
Were you or someone you know conceived outside the human body? A baby conceived in a non-traditional way is no less human and no less valuable than anyone else. They are beautiful people created in God's image - and don't let anyone tell you any different.
http://www.cbc-network.org/ - I highly recommend their video, "Breeders." you can watch it on Amazon Prime.