The attack on the natural ties is getting closer to its logical endpoint now. The Children and Family Relationships Act, buttressed by the upcoming legislation on Assisted Human Reproduction already tremendously downgrade natural family ties, but influential voices want Irish law to go even further in this direction. For example, they want surrogate mothers to be able to hand over their own biological babies to commissioning adults in return for a fee in some cases.
On Saturday, The Irish Independent carried a major feature on surrogacy which raised no ethical concerns about the practice.
It interviewed one couple who have paid for surrogacy services in Ukraine in order to have a second child. The child is fully theirs, genetically-speaking, in that the couple provided both the egg and the sperm.
The couple describe the surrogacy arrangement as a “win-win” for both them and the birth mother, Mariana. They say: “She has a six-year-old daughter and the fee will have helped her through college to give her a life that she wouldn’t have known herself and to be able to buy an apartment”.
What they are describing here is commercial surrogacy, something the proposed law on AHR theoretically plans to ban because of concerns that it commodifies children and exploits women from poor countries.
I say ‘theoretically’ because in practice an Irish couple can go abroad, hire a surrogate mother, and then come back and have the court recognise them as the legal parents of the child.
But significant voices quoted in the article want the law to go further. They want it to outright and explicitly permit commercial surrogacy, and also allow surrogates to become pregnant with their own babies, rather than with the baby of another couple, as was the case with Mariana.
For example, family law expert, Lydia Bracken of the University of Limerick says: the proposed law “only covers what’s known as gestational surrogacy – so, that means that the surrogate herself can’t provide the egg, so the egg has to come from either the intended mother or a donor and also it has to be non-commercial so the surrogate can’t be paid anything more than reasonable expenses in order to be involved in the pregnancy – she can’t do this as a career so to speak”.
Bracken regards the planned law as “very restrictive”, even though it would actually be more permissive than the law in most of Europe, including Sweden, France, Germany, Austria and Italy.
Bracken wants the law to be maximally liberal, that is, permit the ‘intended’ parents to pay a fee to a woman who agrees to have a baby (maybe her own, biologically speaking) on their behalf.
What does this say about the natural ties? It says they don’t matter one bit. The intending parents need not use their own womb or egg or sperm to have a child. All can come from other people and we are to presume the child in later life won’t mind one little bit.
Taking this logic even further, the feminist writer, Sophie Lewis, wants surrogacy to become the preferred way of having children. She as much argues in her new book, ‘Full Surrogacy Now: Feminism Against Family’, which has received sympathetic treatment in influential publications like the New Republic.
Lewis thinks that when women give birth to the babies they raise, they are too inclined to regard them as a form of private property.
She argues that by severing the link between child-bearing and child-rearing and abolishing the natural family altogether, we would overcome this tendency.
She believes an “instinct for pregnancy” would disappear once we “sloughed off cultural superstructures” and learn to think differently about these matters.
Carrying her line of thought further still, Lewis says that we should raise children communally and often children would not be raised by their natural parents at all because the natural ties would be seen not to matter.
I don’t believe we will ever go quite this far because human nature won’t be overcome that easily, even though feminists such as Lewis seem to deny we have a nature, or certainly a male and a female one.
However, we are going far down this path all the same. Irish law has already done so, and if critics of the proposed regulation of Assisted Human Reproduction get their way, we will go further still. All that will matter is the way adults wish to have children. The end will justify the means. Therefore, pretend that the natural ties don’t matter, and if children object as they grow up, say they are still mired in ‘old-fashioned’ ways of thinking about these things.