Everyone is screaming about their rights. Straight couples, gay couples: it doesn’t matter. They believe they have a “right” to happiness, a child will make them happy. So, ipso facto, they have a “right” to a child.

This “right” is to be gained no matter the cost; no matter the “rights” that have to be trampled in the stampede to have a child of “one’s own.” When the “right” to a child is incapable of being fulfilled through natural means – simple enough for a straight couple, not so simple if the couple is same-sex – the wannabe parents may turn to the option of surrogacy. But what about the rights of the child so carried? What about the rights of the woman who offers her surrogate womb for rent?

The 1988 New Jersey case of Baby M  propelled the issue of surrogacy to front page news in the United States. Long before there was even the remotest inkling of same-sex marriage and the various “rights” thereby engendered, the NJ Supreme Court ruled, in overturning a lower court decision, that the surrogacy arrangement was “illegal, perhaps criminal, and potentially degrading to women.” At least they got that right.

Things have changed a bit in the years since Baby M. “In Vitro fertilization” (the fertilization of a woman’s egg outside her body and subsequent implantation in the womb) is fast becoming a routine practice. (Baby M was created through artificial insemination of the surrogate.) In fact, recent research is studying the possibility of creating eggs from sperm and sperm from eggs thus opening the door for same-sex couples to create a child without recourse to an egg donor. The idea that two same-sex persons could thereby create their own biological offspring is controversial in terms of politics, religion and ethics. And while such “engineered” embryos could conceivably be created the need for a surrogate womb is unavoidable in the case of homosexual men. Traditional law still accords legal motherhood upon the woman who carries and gives birth to the child. (Although in 2010 Britain broke with tradition and allowed for two men to appear as parents on the birth certificate of a child born to a surrogate.)

Once again, the issue of “rights” comes up. In gestational surrogacy, the child is the product of a donor egg and sperm and is therefore genetically unrelated to the woman carrying the pregnancy. The surrogate’s womb is, in effect, rented out to the highest bidder. Our traditional notions of motherhood are being tested in the extreme. What if the futuristic worlds depicted in such films as Gattica (where “natural” humans are the freaks, genetically engineered humans the norm), Never Let Me Go (clones form an underclass to provide the privileged with spare body parts), and The Giver aren’t that fantastical after all. Of course, tinkering with sex selection in China hasn’t gone so well for them … killing off all the girl embryos has resulted in a generation of young men who are unable to find wives.

In testifying against relaxing the District of Columbia’s laws against surrogacy, Marie Hilliard, Director of Bioethics and Public Policy for the National Catholic Bioethics Center, wrote:

The Baby M case clearly demonstrated how the best interest of the child becomes secondary to the will of the adults and to the monetary interests that motivate them. Specifically, laws that require counseling of the mother before she surrenders her rights are circumvented; and the compulsion of the contract makes surrender of the child after birth not truly voluntary or informed. Additionally, the arrangement exploits women as “surrogate uterus” or an “incubator” and expects the mother to act as an inanimate object, which denigrates the woman’s dignity in her role as a woman and a mother.

The website for Reproductive Possibilities lists the “estimated cost of surrogacy” for the “intended parents” and includes a home study of the surrogate, psychological testing (of the surrogate) and a criminal background check (of the surrogate). No mention of these same requirements for the intended parents. The traditional safeguards of adoption – home studies, psychological studies, etc. to determine parental fitness – are circumvented entirely by surrogacy. How does this protect the rights of the child? It doesn’t.

In another New Jersey case, a gestational surrogate, Angela G. Robinson, sued her brother and his partner (the sperm donor) for maternal rights to twin daughters. During the 2009 trial, witnesses for her brother argued (1) that a breeding class of women should be created and (2) that mothers are unimportant to their children. Robinson’s attorney, Harold Cassidy, summed it up as follows:

As bizarre as these two propositions are, these two experts did us a great service. They encapsulated the two fundamental assumptions upon which all surrogacy, and especially gestational surrogacy, is based:

(1)        We should create a breeding class of women for men to use to bear children for them, and then cut off the mother’s rights; and

(2)        Mothers are unimportant and offer no true value to their children (once they have bred them).

Cassidy concludes by noting that the above propositions seem vulgar because they are vulgar. He asks: “Is our culture truly willing to encourage the creation of a breeding class of women, and a class of children deliberately intended to be motherless? Are we ready to embrace the exploitation of women, the commodification of children, and accept all of the unforeseen risks of irreparably altering human civilization?”

The Center for Bioethics and Culture (CBC) paints a dark but realistic picture of surrogacy:

Surrogacy is another form of the commodification of women’s bodies. Surrogate services are advertised, surrogates are recruited, and operating agencies make large profits. The commercialism of surrogacy raises fears of a black market and baby selling, of breeding farms, turning impoverished women into baby producers and the possibility of selective breeding at a price. Surrogacy degrades a pregnancy to a service and a baby to a product.

Today, surrogacy in the United States is unregulated and covered by a hodge-podge of laws that vary state to state. Some states have no restraints on surrogacy and others ban it entirely. Simple Google searches for surrogacy turn up hundreds of brokers offering to pair wannabe parents with surrogates. States such as California with liberal laws attract both American and international couples (from countries where surrogacy is banned). The sustained push for “progressive” ethical changes has resulted in an ever broadening push to “normalize” surrogacy arrangements and to discourage regulation. But to what end? And to benefit whom? Certainly not the children to be born.

In fact, the only “rights” that are being “protected” with surrogacy arrangements are the selfish rights of people with money who are in a position to take advantage of others less well-endowed (except with a healthy womb). Those promoting surrogacy are skilled in presenting it as an altruistic action on the part of the surrogate, as advocacy for the “rights” of all to have their own child. But in the end it boils down to a financial transaction with lots of legal paperwork. So let’s get this straight about surrogacy. It’s not about the wellbeing of children not yet born, nor about the rights of women to be protected from exploitation, but about selfish needs of individuals who believe they have a “right” to be a parent whatever the cost.




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.