Surrogacy and Fashionable Families

I must confess: I simply do not read all the gossip mags, so I do not know whether Nicole Kidman used a surrogate arrangement because she was biologically unable to have children or not. If she is able to have kids, but chose the surrogate, then one can wonder about her motivation: was it just to keep her Hollywood figure?

If so, that was a pretty lousy reason to use a surrogate. Indeed, in the view of many ethicists, surrogacy is bad news all around. It seems to create more problems than it solves, and is rightly banned in some places, at least where money is exchanged for such services.

I have written elsewhere about the dangers of surrogacy, so I won’t repeat myself here. See this early piece for example: billmuehlenberg.com/1995/03/02/womb-to-let/

But let me raise two further points. The first has to do with a common objection raised that ‘surrogacy is just like adoption, and we surely approve of adoption, don’t we?’ The truth is, the two have nothing in common whatsoever. So let me spend a few minutes pointing out these key dissimilarities.

A major difference involves the children themselves. Adoption solves a problem, whereas surrogacy creates one. As one relinquishing mother put it, “In adoption, a family sought a child in need of a family. In surrogacy, you are creating children for adults’ needs.”

Moreover, in adoption legislation, the interests of the child are clearly paramount, something which is not the case in surrogacy. As one commentator notes, “Adoption standards and practice have been constantly revised and refined in the light of new understandings developing in the field. . . . It is illegal to take a consent to adoption prior to the birth of the child, for the reason that a woman cannot be expected to make a lifelong decision for herself and her baby in the vacuum of the non-existence of the child.”

Or as another critic of surrogacy has remarked: “Adoption is a community response to the necessitous circumstances of a child already conceived and born, which differs markedly to the circumstances of a child conceived and born for the purpose of transfer to another couple”.

Ethicist Leon Kass says this: “We practice adoption because there are abandoned children who need good homes. We do not, and would not, encourage people deliberately to generate children for others to adopt.”

Or as another has put it: “Surrogate contracts and adoptions are not comparable. Adoption is the fulfilment, not the negation, of parental responsibility. Especially in a country where abortion is cheap and easy, when a woman gives her baby up for adoption she has thereby acknowledged her obligations to her child. Almost always, adoption is part of a conscious attempt to do what is best for the child. The surrogate mother does not admit she has any special obligations to her child; she does not admit that it is hers. The child cannot obligate her, she obligates it: It is a product, conceived for sale and use.”

David Blankenhorn also adds his voice to the fundamental nature of adoption: “Adoption is a wonderfully pro-child act. Adults respond to a child’s loss with altruistic, healing love. . . . Adoption does not deny but in fact presupposes the importance of natural parents. For this reason, despite all the good it does, adoption is ultimately a derivative and compensatory institution. It is not a stand-alone good, primarily because its existence depends upon prior human loss.”

The second issue worth raising is the commodification and dehumanisation that occurs in a surrogacy birth. I and others have spoken to this matter, but a piece in today’s Australian by Melinda Tankard Reist nicely makes this case. Consider the language being used in this process. Nicole and Keith gave thanks to “our gestational carrier”.

Says Melinda: “In those last two words, the woman whose body nurtured this child for nine months is stripped of humanity. The phrase is reminiscent of other terms popular in the global baby-production industry, such as suitcase, baby capsule, oven and incubator. The detached language views women as disposable uteruses. This dismantling of motherhood denies the psychological and physiological bonds at the heart of pregnancy.

“The euphemisms soothe: don’t worry, there is no mother whose voice the baby hears, no mother whose blood carries nutrients to the developing child, whose heart the child hears. No mother feeling first kicks, whose breasts swell, whose entire body and mind prepare for her arrival. US ethicist Wesley Smith said he was reminded of ‘Dune’s “axlotl tanks”, which are women who are lobotomised and then their bodies used as gestational carriers for clones.’ But doctors prefer it.

She lets other women tell their stories: “Donna Hill, who experienced a toxemic pregnancy followed by a traumatic induced labour which she hoped to forget, said, ‘I told myself I was just an incubator. I was just going into an operation and not giving birth.’

“Sydney surrogate mother Shona Ryan told a Canberra conference: ‘I had to forget I was pregnant. There was not the same joy and wonderment. In some ways I felt sorry for this baby that it didn’t receive the same attention [as my others]. I had to deny the pleasures of pregnancy.’

“After the birth: ‘My subconscious, my body, my emotions, knew I’d given birth and were screaming out for that baby. I kept having the urge to tell people, “I’ve had a baby!” The personal cost to me and my family [was too high]. I came to the conclusion I couldn’t recommend surrogacy to anyone’.”

She continues, “Of course the birth of any baby is worthy of celebration. But that doesn’t mean we should avoid hard questions about the fragmentation of motherhood, about a child who may wonder about their birth mother and why she is not raising them.

“We can’t keep our Eyes Wide Shut about the exploitation of women in countries such as India where a booming surrogacy industry, described as womb slavery, attracts rich foreigners. And questions need to be asked more broadly about the global trade in the use of gametes in a range of reproductive procedures.”

She concludes, “The raft of celebrities hiring out surrogates to have babies for them has become almost a modern day form of wet nursing. But the lack of objective evidence about the long-term impact of surrogacy on the surrogate mothers, the children and the families of the commissioning parents is concerning. The process of pregnancy, labour and delivery followed by summoning extraordinary reserves of strength to surrender that baby, cannot be reduced to the science fiction that the woman who does all this is merely a ‘gestational carrier’.”

Quite right. And when Hollywood celebs do this kind of thing on such a grand and public scale, they simply serve as bad role models for others who will be tempted to try the same thing. Many Hollywoodians are already acting as bad examples – we don’t need more such negative fallout from these folk. Especially when children are involved.

www.theaustralian.com.au/news/opinion/gestational-carrier-is-an-ugly-term/story-e6frg6zo-1225990595552

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19 Replies to “Surrogacy and Fashionable Families”

  1. A brilliant analysis Bill.

    How far have we fallen as a society when we choose to take the sanctity of life and turn it into a commodity.

    Paul Evans

  2. According to the SMH,

    [quote] After Kidman gave birth to Sunday Rose in July 2008, the couple tried to conceive again naturally, but failed. They tried again through in-vitro fertilisation (IVF), but were not successful. The couple were then advised by doctors to use a surrogate instead. [/quote]

    http://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/people/nicole-kidman-and-keith-urban-have-daughter-through-surrogate-mother-20110118-19ueu.html

    You make a good point – to carry a child and give them up would be unbelievably difficult and attempts to deny the bonding that happens – should happen – in utero.

    Alison Keen

  3. The moment you take a materialist view of reality (we’re here by way of undirected chance processes; this life is the whole of existence), everything (including new human life) becomes a commodity. (People often reply “Ah, but ‘materialism’ means two different things!”. There is something of a distinction, but they’re both sides of the one coin; the one leads inevitably to the other).
    John Thomas, UK

  4. The other aspect to this is the production of children for the sole purpose of providing for paedophiles and the human slave traffic, or that matter for any other purposes, including scientific experiments. Abortion becomes merely expelling unwanted tissue and babies become merely the product of conception. I am so glad that hell is still in the process of being prepared, for clearly God has much more work to do on this.

    David Skinner, UK

  5. To Dave Skinner,
    Your comment “I am so glad that hell is still in the process of being prepared” conjures up some pretty frightening images mate, you cannot but feel for people who are going there, I think us Christians all need some self discipline to pray for those people who do not know Jesus as Saviour at this point in time.
    Stephen Davis

  6. I certainly share the ideas of Bill and Miranda Devine on this issue. Seems if you are rich, you can even buy babies!
    Jane Petridge

  7. Stephen, mate, of course Christ came for the lost: you and me; but the fact of the matter is that Christ, Paul, Peter and the other apostles did not mince their words with those who were clearly hell bent on destroying others. Did Peter waste time with Ananias and Sapphira? I don’t know whether their earthly lives were merely curtailed or whether they went to a lost eternity, but certainly Peter’s words were not “kind” and “meek and mild.” The fact that vengence belongs to God and not me brings me great comfort. I can leave it to him to administer justice. In the meantime let us hasten those who destroy the lives of babies and children into the Maker’s presence,before they are able to do even more harm. Let us pray first for the victims and the perpetrators of evil after.

    David Skinner, UK


  8. After Kidman gave birth to Sunday Rose in July 2008, the couple tried to conceive again naturally, but failed.

    They tried again through in-vitro fertilisation (IVF), but were not successful. The couple were then advised by doctors to use a surrogate instead.

    Hmm, has anyone ever heard of adoption (like she did before)? Or of accepting the situation with grace?

    John Angelico

  9. Hi Bill,
    Is Chapter VIII (ii) of the Westminster Confession of Faith worthy of being considered in this discussion?
    Matt Puusaari

  10. Thanks Matt

    You will have to explain a bit more what connection you are seeking to draw from that passage. Are you wanting to tie in the virgin birth of Christ with surrogacy?

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  11. Yes Bill, although merely to counter the almost universal umbrage of other comments.
    “Surrogacy indicates an arrangement whereby a woman agrees to undergo the pregnancy, labor, and delivery for another individual who either cannot or chooses not to” (Wikipedia)
    The birth of Jesus as a man was necessary for God’s plan. God needed someone to be a surrogate. He did not opt for adoption in this case.
    Joseph certainly did not play a part in the conception and needed a reason not to divorce Mary. The reason given was “because he (Jesus) will save his people from their sins.” That God’s plan for Jesus included death by crucifixion may not have been mentioned to Mary. There is a ton of suffering for Mary right there.
    Naturally, I have no problem with Jesus birth occurring in this manner…and (depending on the circumstances) no problem with surrogacy.
    Matt Puusaari

  12. Thanks Matt

    But you either misunderstand surrogacy, or the birth of Jesus, or both. Surrogacy involves one woman acting as a gestational carrier for the baby of another woman. Mary of course did no such thing. She carried her own baby to term, and then did not give it to another. You are on weak ground indeed to seek to defend surrogacy from the birth of Jesus. You simply mix apples and oranges, doing injustice to both.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  13. Thanks Bill,
    But “gestational” is a only one of many different models of surrogacy. I may be mixing apples and oranges to that extent…but it’s all fruit to me.
    The “traditional” model has the intent where the surrogate agrees to bear the child of the father, often for the purpose of providing an heir who is of the father’s bloodline.
    The length of time that the biological mother has involvement in the life of the offspring after birth is merely a variation of the model.
    Matt Puusaari

  14. Thanks Matt

    But you continue to misunderstand what is under discussion here. This article is about one thing, the modern procedure of gestational surrogacy which has only been around for about three decades. It has absolutely nothing to do with the birth of Jesus, and as I write elsewhere, there are a number of moral, legal and social problems associated with it.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  15. Matt’s comments are way off line and surrogacy in any form has nothing to do with the birth of Christ. Mary was not carrying the child for another person and did not have to hand her newborn baby son over to another woman after His birth.
    The next step in surrogacy….will the purchasing male, female or two women or two men want a refund if the child does not fulfil their desires and expectations!
    Madge Fahy

  16. Thanks Bill,
    I understand your reasons for limiting the discussion to “gestational surrogacy”.
    Madge, I am not sure why you state “Mary was not carrying the child for another person”. Luke 1:26-38 seems fairly clear in describing the sequence of events.
    To avoid degenerating into a interminable to and fro of “is so – is not”, I will refrain from further comments on this particular post.
    Matt Puusaari

  17. Thanks Matt

    Yes it may be wise that you stop commenting on this, as you unfortunately seem to keep digging yourself further in a hole. The Lukan passage of course also has absolutely nothing to do with my article and the issue of surrogate motherhood. It simply describes two women who had their own babies and who kept them after they were born. They were not temporarily carrying babies for another person, and they did not relinquish their babies upon birth. So I continue to be completely baffled as to how you are seeking to justify modern surrogacy methods by anything found in the gospel accounts.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  18. I can’t agree more with you Bill on this. No-one is thinking of the child, and the repercussions on the surrogate mother must be so emotionally and physically overwhelming and will no doubt affect her for life.

    Yes, the child becomes a mere commodity! God help him/her, and how selfish a choice by a couple to appease their own needs…

    Paula Mari Pike

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