Surrogacy is big business! A simple Google search on the term “surrogacy” returned 1,150,000 results in slightly over a quarter of a second. Several targeted advertisements promised payments to egg donors and surrogates up to $36,000. Another ad targeted homosexual couples seeking a child, touting their clinic’s success with dual embryo transfer where each embryo is created with a different partner’s sperm. Outsourcing surrogacy from many first world nations is boosting the economies of India and Thailand where medical tourism is thriving. In India alone, medical tourism is a multi-billion dollar business. How ethical is such outsourcing of pregnancy? What are the rights of the child? What are the protections for the women who “rent” their wombs?
Catholic moral teaching as expressed in the 1987 Instruction, Donum Vitae is clear. While sterility in marriage is a sad fact of some unions, to be treated with compassion, it does not imply a “right” to a child through artificial means. With respect to surrogacy,
… it is contrary to the unity of marriage and to the dignity of the procreation of the human person. Surrogate motherhood represents an objective failure to meet the obligations of maternal love, of conjugal fidelity and of responsible motherhood; it offends the dignity and the right of the child to be conceived, carried in the womb, brought into the world and brought up by his own parents; it sets up, to the detriment of families, a division between the physical, psychological and moral elements which constitute those families.
Jessica Kern, a 29 year old American, liberal in her politics and neither Catholic nor evangelical, has taken it as her mission to have surrogacy and other forms of third-party conception banned. Herself the product of traditional surrogacy (biological father provided the sperm and surrogate mother provided the egg and womb), she boils the whole arrangement down to an economic transaction. She notes that surrogacy and third-party conception are about what the parent wants, not about what’s necessarily best for the child. It is her belief that every child has a right to be conceived and born to his or her natural parents.
One of India’s most successful surrogacy programs operates in the extremely poor town of Anand. Dr. Nayna Patel (featured on Oprah in 2007) owns and operates the successful Akanksha Infertility Clinic. The clinic’s website announces the successful birth of 500 babies, to parents from 29 countries, as of mid-June 2012. Relying on the surrogacy services of mostly uneducated, extremely poor women, the costs for an American couple seeking a child are significantly less than in the United States. Costs run around $20,000 in India vs. $80,000+ in the United States. There have been many claims that Akanksha is nothing more than a baby factory. Surrogate mothers provide their services in exchange for payment that, while low by American standards, far exceeds typical Indian remuneration. But do the surrogate women have a viable choice? Not really. In a country with few opportunities for gainful employment to those without an education, becoming a surrogate can be almost as good as winning the lottery. Combine poverty with no governmental regulation and the situation is ripe for abuse.
In another story of surrogacy, Alex Kuczynski, a successful New York Times journalist and her investor husband (with homes in Idaho, New York City, and Southampton) attempted pregnancies through in vitro fertilization (IVF) numerous times without a viable birth. Finally, turning to surrogacy, they went the route of an American surrogate. Kuczynski notes that while the surrogates she interviewed for the “job” were not poor, neither were they rich. In fact, the $25,000 fee would make a big financial difference in their lives, while creating barely a dent in her own substantial resources. She also noted that:
We encountered the wink-nod rule: Surrogates would never say they were motivated to carry a child for another couple just for money; they were all motivated by altruism. This gentle hypocrisy allows surrogacy to take place. Without it, both sides would have to acknowledge the deep cultural revulsion against attaching a dollar figure to the creation of a human life. [highlighting added for emphasis]
There it is in black and white, stated by a beneficiary of surrogacy. There is a deep cultural revulsion to attaching a monetary value to a baby. But that’s exactly what is occuring in the United States as well as in other countries. In fact, the website of one prominent supplier of gestational surrogacy services, Virginia Center for Reproductive Medicine, states the benefits of their clinic over others in terms of success rates, pricing, and other economic benefits.
Catholic teaching on morals states that a child is a “gift” from God, not a right to which all are entitled. If having a child of one’s own becomes a right accorded to all, then we are treating a child as property, as a commodity. And by extension, we are treating the wombs of surrogates as commodities to be traded in the marketplace in exchange for monetary gain. Clearly, children are human beings and, as such, deserve the dignity accorded to all persons, from conception to natural death. Concomitantly, women should not be forced for economic reasons to use their bodies for another’s desires. That is simply another form of prostitution.
It was never intended that children be bought and sold. Natural law dictates that a man and a woman (or at least their sperm and eggs) are required for the creation of a child. But now not only infertile men and women, but homosexuals in same-sex relationships, are demanding their “right” to a child of their own. Catholic teaching, taking natural law to its full extent and relying on Scripture, goes a step further. In the context of the sacramental marital bond and God willing, a man and a woman conceive a child in love. While reality (broken homes, unstable marriages, neglectful or abusive parents) does not always conform to this ideal of a loving environment into which a child is born, neither does it provide the grounds for justifying actions (IVF, surrogacy) that fly against the confines of nature, treating children as commodities to be provided to any adult desirous of being a parent. Just because we can does not imply that we should.
The opinions expressed by the DPS blog authors and those providing comments are theirs alone; they are not necessarily the expressions or beliefs of either the Dead Philosophers Society or Holy Apostles College & Seminary.