The ethical pitfalls of surrogacy as revealed at a recent surrogacy conference

A previous post reported on the proceedings of a recent surrogacy conference in Dublin. It is fair to say that most people would find at least some of the information revealed at the conference quite shocking. This blog will examine a few of the ethical issues raised by surrogacy, including issues that were directly raised during the Dublin surrogacy conference.

Commodifying children: surrogacy makes the creation of children subject both to a legal contract and to monetary transaction. Commercial surrogacy very obviously involves the purchasing of a child: surrogacy companies and surrogate mothers profit from producing a child for couples and individuals. Yet even so-called “altruistic” surrogacy tends to reduce children to the status of commodities. Operators of Canadian surrogacy firms at the Dublin conference testified to the fact that their version of “altruistic” surrogacy still involves fees amounting to tens of thousands of euros, and still involves contracting the creation and birth of children. This is not to mention that in many places where commercial surrogacy is prohibited and only “altruistic” surrogacy is allowed, surrogates receive hugely inflated “reasonable expenses” for their efforts, which in reality amount to a for-profit payment (this fact was acknowledged at the Dublin conference).

Taking human life: surrogacy often involves the taking of innocent human life. As panellists at the Dublin conference explained, “fetal reduction” (in other words, abortion) takes place when the intending parents object to the conception of twins and only want one child produced for them. Surrogacy also relies on the creation of a surplus number of embryonic human beings; these embryos are screened and those that are disabled (e.g. have Down Syndrome or some other condition) are discarded and thrown out. Of course the creation and destroying of “spare” embryos is an aspect of the wider IVF industry. The Dublin conference was also informed that gender selection of children occurs, meaning that male or female embryos are destroyed simply on the grounds of their sex.

Splitting or even denying motherhood for children: every act of surrogacy involves a woman gestating a child in her womb for nine months only to give that child to some other adult either at or shortly after birth. If the child is given to another woman it means that the child will have both a birth mother and a social mother. Either mother may be the child’s biological mother, or perhaps even a third mother will be – the circumstances and the relevant law will decide. It is unfair to deliberately complicate and split motherhood for children in this way. If the child is handed over to a male couple or a male individual, then the child will have a birth mother and a biological mother but no social mother. Again this is unfair: it amounts to deliberately depriving a child of their own mother.

Exploitation of poor women: surrogacy almost always involves renting out the wombs of poor women. The surrogacy industry uses these women as means to the creation of huge profits. As such, the surrogacy industry trades on treating these women in a way that violates their inherent dignity as full members of the human family. Some argue that the women themselves (usually) consent to being treated this way. Even if one overlooks the social and economic constraints upon this “consent”, consent alone does not justify a practice that violates human dignity of adult women and small babies.