Womb To Let

The proposal to allow limited surrogacy in Victoria should be resisted, for the sake of the children involved, the “parents”, and the common good of all members of society.

What is at stake is our fundamental conception of the family and the most primal personal right – the right to one’s own children. The bond between mother and child is primary and indisputable. It is the bedrock of most societies throughout history. This right to one’s own children is already being undermined in ordinary divorce and custody cases. The push to legalise surrogacy represents a frontal assault on that right.

Women simply cannot detach their emotions from the child growing in their body. Human relationships are debased and cheapened if we expect that a woman can simply give up the child growing within her. A detached delight in one’s own fertility, in which a woman lets a child grow in her own body all the while pretending it is not her child is nothing but an aberration. For society to create special institutions to encourage such emotional dissociation is to try to make such an aberrant state the norm.

Indeed, were such legislation to pass, we would be giving official sanction to allowing women to be perceived as mere incubators or gestational instruments. Women are already being depersonalised by pornography and the new reproductive technologies. They do not need to be further dehumanised, even in “altruistic” cases of surrogacy. As one surrogate mother put it: “Being a surrogate mother is the one remorse of my life that I would change. . . Bringing a surrogate child into the world, thinking I would be doing heroic good, brought only untold suffering and unfinished business for many innocent people.”

In addition to the psychological and emotional anguish and grief for the woman carrying the child, the harm to the child as it grows up is also inestimable. Indeed, the implications for the child seem to be overlooked in these debates. In whose interests should we be most concerned? As bio-ethicist and lawyer Kevin Andrews has remarked: “The primary purpose of the [surrogacy] arrangement is directed not towards the welfare of the child but the needs of the commissioning couple. . . The child is fundamentally a commodity to be obtained or provided within a utilitarian or consumer setting.”

Moreover, in addition to the baby in question, the siblings of the baby will also be affected. Children form emotional attachments to their unborn siblings. When the attachment is broken by the transfer of the baby, the siblings will suffer.

Also, there are various legal complications that can arise when a woman decides she doesn’t want to relinquish the baby. Numerous examples abound, but the Baby M case in America several years ago is a case in point. The baby in question was removed by the police from the natural mother, Mary Beth Whitehead’s breast and handed over to Elizabeth Stern whose only claim was to want a child of her own. Mary Beth was allowed to visit Baby M for two hours twice a week. At first, Baby M, smelling the mother’s milk, nuzzled at Mary Beth’s neck, but the court-appointed chaperon wouldn’t let Baby M nurse, lest that create a mother-child bond!

The Victorian legislation would allow for a cooling-off period. This will not render womb rental harmless – indeed the opposite may be the case. It may further subordinate responsibility to wilfulness, and further encourage thinking of children as material goods.

The complications, the hurt, the potential for huge legal costs in lengthy court cases are all too great. It is a genuine grief when couples cannot bear their own children. The desire for children is strong and wholesome, but life offers no guarantees, and good things can have prohibitive costs.

The argument that banning surrogacy will just drive it underground doesn’t wash. It takes a long time to make a baby. As one commentator put it, “Surrogate motherhood is not a quick and private transaction like scoring coke. . . . Surrogate motherhood can prosper only if society creates special institutions to foster its growth. And what those special institutions come down to is this: a guarantee by the government that it will strip a woman of her parental rights, not because she abandons her child, but because she is unwilling to do so.”

Nor is surrogacy like adoption. Adoption is the fulfilment, not the negation, of parental responsibility.

Even the wisdom of Solomon cannot prevent the child from ultimately being torn in two by the competing factions.

In the final analysis, surrogacy is anti-family, anti-child and anti-society. All surrogacy, even altruistic surrogacy, should be prohibited. As the State and Territory Social Welfare and Health Ministers said in 1991, we “support legislation to give all surrogacy arrangements no legal standing”.

Moreover, one can ask: what were the arguments used in Cabinet to reach a decision contrary to the unanimous opinion of the Ministers quoted above? The public has a right to know before any change to the legislation is introduced in Parliament.

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