Surrogacy and the Interests of Children

Surrogacy is on the rise around the world. This means of obtaining children is becoming more and more popular, with more and more desperate adults turning to it. A surrogate mother of course agrees to carry the baby for another woman, and give it up upon birth. This can be done with or without a fee, and regulations around the globe vary greatly as to if and when this can occur.

The desire to have children is of course fully normal and fully natural. Infertility is a very real problem, and many people think that any means necessary is morally acceptable in the attempt to have children. Thus a whole range of assisted reproductive technologies – including surrogacy – are now on offer.

Singer LeAnn Rimes is one of the latest to talk about going through surrogacy in order to have children. As one article states, “Don’t expect Rimes to get pregnant right away, though. The singer said she’s considering all of her options, including adoptions and surrogacy, because difficult pregnancies run in her family. ‘It took my mom 12 years to have me. I hope I don’t have that [issue] but if I do, then a surrogate is something I’ve thought about’.”

But there are numerous problems associated with all this. For example, there have been many tragic legal cases of surrogate babies and questions of their “ownership”. And surrogate parenting can result in many of these babies being booted around like a football. And often all the various parties involved seem to be left in a state of grief and turmoil. These cases simply highlight the concerns many have had about allowing surrogacy to occur in the first place.

The Wellbeing of Children

While adults may be the winner in surrogacy arrangements, what about the children so conceived? How will they fare? The simple fact that they may have at least three “parents” involved in their creation may well raise serious concerns for them later down the track. Questions of identity must arise, as in other cases of assisted reproductive technologies. “Where did I come from?” “Who am I?” “What are my roots?” These and other questions arise when children are manufactured instead of born through the union of a mother and a father.

As bioethicist Megan Best writes, “The testimony from children born through assisted conception is clear: their biological identity is important to them and every time an extra parent is added to the mix, it increases confusion and reduces their sense of belonging. When you consider that children born through surrogacy may have to contend with, potentially, up to five parents (egg donor, sperm donor, surrogate and two social parents), what will these children say when they are old enough to speak for themselves? They have had no opportunity to consent to these experiments.”

But, it might be objected, what about adoption? Is this not similar? Indeed, it might appear that the arguments against surrogacy can be equally used against adoption. However, there are a number of major differences between the two. A main difference involves the children themselves. 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. “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.”

As Kevin Andrews 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 commentator 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.”

Surrogacy and Baby Selling

There are meant to be two types of surrogacy: altruistic and commercial. The former is meant to occur without any financial transaction taking place, while the latter involves money. But such a distinction does not always work. At least not the enforcement of the latter. For example, in Victoria there is a law against the paying of fees for adoption. The Adoption Act 1984 specifically prohibits the giving or receiving of any fees. Yet with the dawn of the Internet all that is coming unstuck.

An example is the recent case where a Victorian woman offered to sell her baby to an American couple for $10,000. The couple was found on one of the many Internet sites devoted to the selling of sperm, embryos, and so on. In this case, when the mother gave birth, she changed her mind. But because commercial surrogacy is legal in America, she did not know she was breaking Victorian law, and could face a three-year jail sentence.

And even with the exchange of money banned in certain states and countries, that does not prevent IVF proponents to encourage the practice. For example, just recently Melbourne IVF expert Dr John McBain has argued that infertile couples should be allowed to pay women up to $10,000 for a “donation” of eggs.

Overseas, the “rent-a-womb” situation is big business. Consider the case of India. A recent investigation into the baby trade there said this: “There are now up to 1,000 clinics, all entirely unregulated, in the country, many specialising in helping Britons become parents. Couples and single people are paying an average of £25,000 a time to have children, getting around rules in the UK which make commercial surrogacy illegal. It is estimated that 2,000 births to surrogate mothers took place in the country last year, with most experts agreeing that Britain is the biggest single source of people who want to become parents in this way. Britain may account for as many as 1,000 births last year in India. In contrast there were 100 surrogate births recorded in Britain last year.”

In a related article, we read about how many of these poor women are even selling their own eggs in this baby trade. The headline is chilling enough: “They queue to donate their eggs and rent out their wombs. One payment can transform their lives”.

For these and other reasons we certainly need to move slowly here, and think much more carefully through the various ethical, legal and family issues involved in surrogacy.

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4 Replies to “Surrogacy and the Interests of Children”

  1. Years ago when Fr John Fleming had his own radio show on Sunday evenings in Adelaide, he was talking about IVF. The problem comes when the child finds out and wants to know who their father was. Often, especially in the 1970’s there was anonymity, they never find out. I could see then why there were objections to that sort of thing.

    I remember reading somewhere about Deborah Harry of ‘Blondie’ who is interested in adopting a child from Africa. She is in her mid sixties and I was asking myself why didn’t she think of that sort of thing at least 20-30 years ago?

    Carl Strehlow

  2. Another difference between adoption and ART- the death toll.
    With an adoption situation there might be a maximum of two people lost (in the case of an orphan), but with ART there are around 20-30 (depending on whose estimates you use) little lives lost for every one that sees the light of day. The major difference here isn’t just numbers- in the case of an orphan, the loss is incidental and is grieved, in ART the loss is deliberate and generally is not grieved or even thought of.

    Thank you for talking about this Bill.

    Lauren Hughes

  3. Of course, when you listen to a programme on the ABC about a personal story involving surrogacy, it is always the parents seeking the child, who are painted in glowing terms, being made out to be the misunderstood and brave heroes pursuing their passioned right to have a child, on whom, providence, if it exists would surely smile, never considering the rights or even the needs of the child.
    Many blessings

    Ursula Bennett

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