United Families International: Dedicated to informing you about the issues and forces impacting the family.
Contributed by Camille Williams
Rachel’s cry of longing, envy and despair, “Give me children else I die” (Genesis 30:1) is echoed in our day by infertile couples, by same-sex couples, and by single men considering “family building” via surrogacy.
Surrogacy – a tool of entitlement
While IVF/surrogacy websites emphasize the joy babies can bring, assisted reproduction is expensive, and many of the costs to the babies and the women who give them life are hidden. Kathleen Sloan argues that commercial surrogacy,” subjects women to life-threatening health risks to produce custom-made children and [causes] children being intentionally severed from genetic and biological sources of identity—human rights be damned. In essence, it is the ultimate manifestation of the American neoliberal project of capitalist commodification of human life to create profit and fulfill the narcissistic desires of an entitled elite.“
Budget-minded folk cut costs by looking outside the United States for surrogates. Others find family members to help. Recently, a 61-year-old woman served as the surrogate mother for her own granddaughter conceived with her son’s sperm and eggs from the sister of her son’s partner. She described her act as a gift for her son and his husband.
Such altruistic surrogacy apparently attests to the “mother heart” of the women involved in intra-familial surrogacy, although some critics of surrogacy argue that women could be “coerced into participating in surrogacy arrangements out of a sense of guilt and duty,” and so risk their own health and lives for no monetary compensation at all.
Human reproduction as a commodity
Whether done for love or for money, transactional procreation encourages us to view human sperm, eggs, and the female body as raw materials, and babies as products. We do this at some risk to our common humanity. Surrogacy contracts do promise payment but restrict the surrogate and her rights in such a variety of invasive ways that they might be characterized as contracts of adhesion–those in which a party with much stronger bargaining power drafts a self-serving contract to be signed by a party with a much weaker bargaining power. Jennifer Lahl notes: “Surrogacy contracts are written to protect the Intended Parents, not the surrogate mother nor the child.” Lahl continues:
“People often ask me why a woman would sign a contract that surrenders so much of her personal life—her very bodily integrity—to strangers? The short answer is ‘money.’ Financial motives often compel women to become involved in a marketplace that is, frankly, predatory. Surrogacy is presented to potential surrogates as an opportunity to “give the gift of life,” and the risks are minimized. This is exactly why it is illegal to buy and sell organs. We know that if organ donation were to become a commercial marketplace, the need for money combined with the opportunity to help someone in need would drive people to take serious risks with their health. Money undermines the informed consent process. It will always be the people who need money who are selling; the wealthy will be the consumers/buyers.” (See a sample contract here.)
Canadian ethicist Margaret Somerville, citing Michael Sandel’s “What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets,” argues that “commodifying some human interactions, such as parents’ relationships to their children, is unethical. Payment of surrogates creates unfairness — only the wealthy can buy and only the poor sell — and corrupts the values that relationship represents, that parents’ love for their child is unconditional and priceless.” She advocates public policy and funding limitations on access of IVF when surrogacy is involved and distinguishes between what she calls ‘“medical infertility’ and ‘social infertility’(same-sex couples, single persons, or fertile opposite-sex couples, where the woman, for non-medical reasons, wants to avoid pregnancy by using a surrogate).” Her concern is that:
“The adults who want a child are placed at the centre of the decision making about the use of reproductive technologies. But, ethics requires we place the child, as the most vulnerable person, at the centre.” She wisely concludes, “Consequently, we must act primarily on the basis of what respect for children’s coming-into-being and their future well-being require that we not do, and what they have a need and a right to know about the people through whom life travelled to them and with regard to contact with those people, including sperm and egg ‘donors’ and surrogate mothers.”
The great unknown – long-term outcomes
Just as the children of surrogates tend to have limited knowledge about their origins, we have limited knowledge about how these children born of transactional procreation and their surrogates fare over their respective lifetimes. While the authors of a metastudy of surrogacy outcomes epublished in 2015 indicate in their abstract that they found “no evidence of harm to the children born as a result of surrogacy” they note that their “conclusions should be interpreted with caution since “To date, there are no studies on children born after cross-border surrogacy or growing up with gay fathers.”
Some find it painful that they were borne by a surrogate. Jessica Kern refers to herself as “a product of surrogacy,” and explains “When you know that a huge part of the reason that you came into the world is due solely to a paycheck, and that after being paid you are disposable, given away and never thought of again, it impacts how you view yourself.”
The child’s pain mirrors that of some surrogate mothers. Mary Rose Somarriba writes that “like any mother, surrogate moms bond with the child in their wombs, and often experience emotional pain when detached from their child after birth—even if they knew and intended all along to give up the child to the intended parents. A 2014 qualitative study on the experiences of eight surrogate mothers published the Iranian Journal of Reproductive Medicine, revealed surrogate moms experience significant emotional attachment to the children they carry. Researchers concluded, “surrogacy pregnancy should be considered as a high-risk emotional experience because many surrogate mothers may face negative experiences.’”
An ancient lesson
Just as the biblical figure, Rachel, found that neither a surrogate nor her babies brought her the peace and happiness she sought, we must acknowledge that human beings are ends in themselves–unique, irreplaceable souls—and not the means by which we satisfy our desires.