The moral problems of surrogacy

MercatorNet 12 August 2014
The moral problems of surrogacy
There are many other conflicts underlying this case. In reality, surrogate motherhood represents a failure to meet the obligations of maternal love, marital fidelity and responsible motherhood. That is to say, carrying a pregnancy involves a unique relationship to the child in which the woman becomes the child’s mother. As the mother of the child, she has natural obligations to nurture the child. These obligations are felt by many mothers despite having decided on abortion. A woman who is about to abort will often express protective views, such as about not taking antibiotics that might harm the child, even though she has decided to abort.

Furthermore, if the woman is married she has entered into a convenantal agreement in which her capacity to become a mother is given exclusively to her husband as he gives himself exclusively to her including his capacity to be a father. That means an inherent conflict between her married status and her allowing her body to be used for commercial gain to become pregnant from outside her relationship to her husband and her family.

One wonders about the impact on Gammy’s two siblings in this case, as they see their mother give or in effect sell her birth child to others. What would it mean for Gammy’s birth siblings now if, having loved Gammy as a family addition, the commissioning couple were to move to take Gammy away with them? What effects would that have on the confidence they would have had in the bond they have with their mother, and their father, if there is a father in the picture?

Surrogacy and the rights of the child
Commercial or even so-called “altruistic” surrogacy contracts offend the dignity and the right of the child to be conceived, carried in the womb, brought into the world and brought up by their own parents. This right is recognized by the United Nations in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which upholds the child’s right:

•to preserve his or her identity, including nationality, name and family relations as recognized by law without unlawful interference;
•not to be separated from his or her parents against their will, except when competent authorities subject to judicial review determine, in accordance with applicable law and procedures, that such separation is necessary for the best interests of the child;
•not to be separated from one or both parents to maintain personal relations and direct contact with both parents on a regular basis, except if it is contrary to the child’s best interests;
•to rely on the common responsibilities of both parents for the upbringing and development of the child, and their primary responsibility for the upbringing and development of the child on the basis of the best interests of the child; and
•that in adoption decisions, the authorities shall ensure that the best interests of the child shall be the paramount consideration.

Surrogacy sets up, to the detriment of families, a division between the physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual elements that constitute those families. The woman’s capacity to bear a child is implicitly separated from her role as mother to that child and any other children she may have. She must plan to deny any affection she has for the commissioned child she carries. As I have already mentioned, one wonders how her other children may regard the fact that she gives a child away and what that means for the security of their relationship to her.

In that respect, the treatment of the surrogate is problematic because it does not recognize the motherhood that exists in becoming pregnant and nurturing the child until birth. The surrogate is implicitly treated as an object, and her body is used as a mere incubator rather than as the child’s mother. As the child’s mother, she is linked to the child physically, emotionally, cognitively and spiritually, and that reality ought not to be denied.

To enter into a contract to the contrary by which her connectedness is to be rejected is essentially false. This is borne out by the number of occasions on which birth mothers opt not to give up the child for adoption by the commissioning couple, even when their own gametes are used and the birth mother is not genetically related.

Altruistic surrogacy  
So-called “altruistic” surrogacy removes the commercial or trafficking element, but given that it normally happens between relatives, the project is more likely to be fraught with exploitative tension between the commissioning couple and the female relative and her family. I was consulted by a woman who felt pressured in this way by both her infertile sister and her own parents and other family members. They felt she had an obligation. She felt she had no choice. It was not really a matter of consent.

In fact, commercial surrogacy may be a cleaner break and less exploitative, The payment of a sum of money is usually far less complicated than the complex emotional relationships by which a sister may be induced under emotional pressure to perform this service so intimately involving her body, and not without effect on her family relationships, her health and the ongoing significance of actually being the child’s birth mother. She would endure all that pregnancy and child birth involves, and then the suffering involved in relinquishing the bonds formed by carrying the child in her womb for nine months, and then the severance of the bonds formed – especially bonds formed through the hardship and self-investment in the sufferings of childbirth for the sake of the child.

Anyone attending or experiencing labour and birth, cannot help but see how the joy of having the baby in the mother’s arms normally seems to override the significance of her suffering, however extreme and prolonged. There is such an outpouring of love and delight in the achievement. But for the commissioned birth mother, that is all overshadowed by the removal of the baby, that enormous loss, and coping with the biological reality of no baby to assist her with the milk in her breasts and the many other changes to her body normally induced by the transition from pregnancy to suckling a new babe, aiding the healing of any damage and recovering her normal body.

Biologically and psychologically, the loss of a baby at or soon after birth is an enormous burden to bear – well attested by those who suffer a stillbirth. If the child remains within the extended family, then the conflicted nature of the situation will always be there, particularly if the commissioning couple make decisions with which the birth mother might not have agreed. Medical treatment decisions for the child, and even decisions about schooling have been shown to be a source of tension, because, in reality, pregnancy and childbirth forge a unique connection between the mother and the child she carried. She has invested hugely of herself in the child.

In one case with which I am familiar, the major divisive issue was that the commissioning sister sent the child to the school that the sisters had both attended, but which had been a miserable experience for the sister who gave birth to the child. She petitioned strongly for a different choice, and clearly saw herself as much more than just the little girl’s aunt.

On the periphery are the birth mother’s other children and her husband, if she has one. Most agencies will not accept a surrogate who has not completed her own family, because the complication of non-compliance with the agreed relinquishment is more likely to be a problem. What does it mean for a man who has entered into an exclusive relationship, implied by marriage in almost all cultures, to see his partner exploited in this way? Especially, as is usually the case, if they are driven to it by poverty and the financial advantage of her participation? Might he feel that he has failed her?
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