Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Surrogacy raises complex ethical issues

A recent BBC News report, ‘Womb for rent: A tale of two mothers’, highlights the fact that the high cost of surrogacy in Europe and the US means that many Western women are outsourcing pregnancy abroad. The BBC World Service follows two women, Carolina and Sonal, as they come to terms with the emotional costs of surrogacy.

Carolina is an Irish woman unable to bear a child as a result of surgery for cancer of the cervix. Sonal is an Indian woman married to a vegetable vendor earning just £21 per month who agrees to carry Carolina’s child in exchange of a payment of £4,200 which will enable her to live more comfortably and provide education for her children.

The case is the tip of a growing iceberg of international surrogacy arrangements. On the surface it seems to be a win/win negotiation – one woman gets a much wanted child and another receives money for her children’s education – but beneath the surface it raises many complex ethical and moral questions.

Surrogacy literally means ‘taking the place of someone else’ and a surrogate mother carries a baby on behalf of another couple (often termed the ‘commissioning couple’) having agreed to surrender the child to them after birth.

Surrogacy is not illegal in the UK but surrogacy arrangements are not enforceable in law either and a child born as a result of surrogacy is legally the child of the surrogate mother, not the commissioning couple, even though one or possibly even both of them may be the baby’s biological parents through egg and/or sperm donation.

It’s an offence in the UK to advertise either that one is looking for, or is willing to be, a surrogate mother and any commercial interest in the arrangement is illegal. ‘Necessary expenses’ only can be reimbursed.

A similar situation operates in Ireland although surrogacy is illegal in other European countries like Germany, France and Italy. However in developing countries like India the laws are much more lax.

Once a surrogate mother has given up a baby to the commissioning couple, that couple then apply for a court ‘parental order’ which makes the child theirs. However if the surrogate mother doesn’t wish to part with the baby then there is effectively nothing the commissioning couple can do about it.

Surrogacy raises many issues from a Christian perspective. First there is the issue of exploitation, especially with international surrogacy arrangements where a rich couple from the West pay a large amount of money to a woman, often living in poverty, who must then endure the risks of carrying a pregnancy in developing world conditions. Then there is the commodification of childbirth. As Christians we believe that children are gifts of God whose welfare must be paramount. They are not commodities who can be bought and sold.

Third there are the complexities of family relationships to consider. There is, on the one hand, the emotional cost of parting with the baby whom you have carried throughout pregnancy and then questions of identity that the child might have later with respect to whom his or her real parents, brothers or sisters, or relatives really are. Not to mention issues of custody and inheritance rights.

Finally there is the question of whether surrogacy somehow breaches the integrity of the marriage bond. God’s plan for marriage is that of an exclusive monogamous, heterosexual, lifelong intimate relationship where children are brought up by parents to whom they are biologically related within families. The baby being carried by the surrogate mother may or may not be biological related to her and may be biologically related only to one of the two members of the commissioning couple.

Surrogacy is very different from adoption in that a child with confused parentage is being deliberately and intentionally created.

The cases of surrogacy described in the Bible also raise big questions for us about the wisdom of surrogacy for society and family relationships. Abraham’s wife Sarah used Hagar as a surrogate mother and Jacob’s wives Leah and Rachel used Zilpah and Bilhah respectively.

But in both cases the surrogacy arrangements were embarked upon out of impatience a lack of trust in God’s promises. And there were ramifications for generations to come. The resultant intra-family hostility and conflict should ring loud warning bells for us. It is a sobering thought that, had Abraham been more patient and trusting, Ishmael, and hence Islam, might never have originated!

Having said that, every child born by whatever means is infinitely precious in the sight of God and worthy of love, protection and care.

The elephant in the room of course with the whole issue of surrogacy is perhaps why commissioning couples don’t simply adopt. And this brings us to the wider question of why there are so few babies under a year of age available for adoption in this country. I have recently highlighted that there is one baby adoption in England and Wales for every 2,235 abortions so our perhaps our efforts should be directed to restricting abortion thereby making more babies available for adoption. There are also many children with special needs in foster care or in residential care homes who are needing adoptive parents.

Surrogacy raises many issues and there are solutions to childlessness that don’t involve negotiating its stormy waters.

11 comments:

  1. >> where children are brought up by parents to whom they are biologically related within families

    So God does not care for adopted children who are brought up by those who are not biologically related to them? Goodness me - if this is what christianity teaches, then I'm glad I'm not part of its and your worldview.

    Have you considered that a lot of biological parents and other "biological" family members frequently abuse their own children, both physically and sexually? I suppose that is secondary, so long as they are "biologically related".

    I have news for you - it is not "biology" which creates bonds but love.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. you're fool. you dont know what you saying. think hundred times before saying a single word.

      Delete
  2. You have misinterpreted me. As I say above every child born by whatever means is infinitely precious in the sight of God and worthy of love, protection and care.

    And Christianity is hugely afirmative of adoption - in fact the whole Christian view of reconciled relationships with God is based in Scripture on an adoption model - ie when we become Christians we become God's adopted children.

    But, again as I say above, surrogacy is very different from adoption in that a child with confused parentage is being deliberately and intentionally created.

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  3. Why is it exploitation if the woman in the developing world willingly agrees to be a surrogate, in exchange for a large sum of money which will improve her life and that of her family? I am from the USA and I know many people who have gone through the overseas surrogate route. The fact is it is not easy for foreigners to adopt from third world countries like India. Their government makes it impossible for foreigners wishing to adopt. On the other hand, the same government promotes surrogacy as an alternate route, because they earn foreign revenue.

    The surrogates have to fulfil the exact same conditions as surrogates in the USA - this is done in order to ensure that they are not overburdened physically or their health put at risk. There are many safeguards for the women who act as surrogates. There is an age limit, they are screened, and they are not allowed to be surrogates for an infinite number of occasions.

    It is sad that these women are having to "earn a living" this way - on the other hand, depriving them of this will only leave them in poverty. Which is worse?

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    Replies
    1. i believe nobody tormented a childless women. it is their beliefs that torment them to whatever torment they wanted to be.

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  4. The bottomline is that childless couples are desperate for the unconditional love that only children can bring. They will resort to any reasonable method to get this. Asking them to stay childless just because you see it as "confused parentage" is cruel. People who are blessed "naturally" with many children will rarely understand the torment of the childless.

    ReplyDelete
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  9. Surrogacy arrangements are complex and involve medical, emotional, financial and legal issues. More Australians are considering surrogacy as a means to having a child because there is a decline in the number of children available for adoption, whereas they can access assisted reproductive treatment (ART).

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