Surrogacy has been making the top news stories on the morning talk shows and the front page of newspapers the past few weeks.
From the California surrogate mother carrying triplets being sued to abort one because the father only contracted for twins, to the child with Down syndrome whose parents abandoned him with the surrogate mother after he and his twin sister were born, this Brave New World is fraught with confusion.
Surrogacy is a contractual agreement between persons wanting a baby and a woman willing to carry their child through pregnancy. The “gestational carrier,” as surrogate mothers have been called, agrees to release the newborn baby to the contractual parents to raise the child. A fee is most often paid to the surrogate for her service. The average cost in the United States is $20,000 per pregnancy, plus medical and living expenses through the nine months of pregnancy.
There are two ways the baby or babies are conceived.
With traditional surrogacy, pregnancy occurs through artificial insemination, so the baby is conceived using the surrogate’s egg. With traditional surrogacy, the surrogate will be connected to the child both genetically and gestationally.
Gestational surrogacy begins with in vitro fertilization (IVF) in which the egg and sperm of the intending mother and father create an embryo (baby). This newly created embryo is then implanted into the surrogate mother’s womb where she shares a gestational link with the baby.
Despite sketchy statistics, surrogacy in America has grown tremendously, from 600 surrogate children between 1976 and 1988, to 5,238 from 2004 to 2008, especially as IVF has become more popular.
The agreement or contact the surrogate mother enters into tends to favor the “intended parents.” With a buyer/seller mentality, the surrogate endures the physical and emotional toll, being subjected to grueling rounds of hormones, shots and painful procedures with minimal chances of success (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention puts the overall failure rate of IVF in the U.S. at 70 percent).
The desires of the intended parents are paramount, with little consideration given for the surrogate or the child. Unlike the screening required for adoption, there are no criteria for the intended parents except for their ability to pay for the “service.”
The resulting child becomes the possession or product for the intended parents, manufactured and even intentionally designed to suit their needs.
In some cases, the pregnancy is reduced to a “bits and pieces” industry: using the genes of a man and woman with the desired traits to create a designer embryo, and then using the womb from a poor woman in India who is trying to provide food and education for her children. Like commodity trading at the stock exchange, a broker sets up the legal transactions to build a better baby the “modern” way.
What the church teaches
The church understands the desire couples have for a child that is biologically related to them. When couples face issues of infertility, the church acknowledges the pain and frustration they experience.
But the ability to cooperate with God to generate a new human being is not just a bodily function. Children are never to be considered as a right or an object, as if they were a commodity. Children have a natural human right to be conceived in dignity, free of manipulation, so they can experience the strong bond of the mother-child relationship and being accepted as the unrepeatable gift they are to their mother and father.
As Pope Francis reminded us: “Human life is sacred and inviolable. Every civil right is based on the recognition of the first, fundamental right, the right to life, which is not subject to any condition, of a qualitative, economic and certainly not of an ideological nature … [where] human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a ‘throwaway’ culture which is now spreading. In this way life too is discarded” (April 11, 2014).
Minnesota has already identified the need to take a more serious, in-depth look at the concerns associated with surrogacy agreements. There is a bill — SF 348 (Johnson) and HF 437 (Scott) — to establish a Legislative Surrogacy Commission to examine the many issues associated with surrogacy arrangements in Minnesota. This study would be the best way to help ensure Minnesota is protecting the well-being of vulnerable women and children.
To date, Minnesota has not yet declared surrogacy contracts legal, valid or enforceable as a matter of public policy. Without any significant consideration, the Minnesota Legislature is poised to create a commercial surrogacy business that would essentially legitimize the buying and selling of children between two contracting parties.
Some states have passed legislation to legalize surrogacy contracts, such as Illinois and California. The surrogacy industry has boomed in these states. Meanwhile, the ethical dilemmas that are negatively affecting women and children by surrogacy arrangements are largely going unchecked. Courts in the United States and around the world are grappling with questions of who has rights to the child before and after he or she is born.
To ignore the concerns raised by some reproductive technologies and to move forward with them anyway would be to take matters into our own hands and to act against God’s great design. Our responsibility is to be open to children as God’s precious gift, worthy of profound dignity and respect, and to live so our children are confident they are this gift.
Children, as a precious gift, should not be considered a commodity, something which is contracted, much like we do when we hire a plumber. Each child is worthy of much more.
Chris Codden is director of the Office of Marriage and Family of the Diocese of St. Cloud. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.