A(nother?) tangled surrogacy story

I must be candid.  I am grateful that my two sons, who please me immensely, cannot be called products of an “industry.”

That is, my wife and I never faced the pressure that some must feel, for a variety of reasons, to become ensnared in that tangled-web-we-have-woven called gestational surrogacy.

A writer named Michelle Goldberg has written a thoughtful article for the online magazine Slate describing the mess that one surrogacy case has become.  A woman chose to become a commercial surrogate to augment her income.  She has four kids of her own—including triplets—and had carried one prior surrogate pregnancy.  She agreed to carry a pregnancy for a deaf, single postal worker “who lives with his parents.”  There was a separate egg donor.  They signed a contract.  Three embryos were transferred, and all implanted.  Gender selection was done at the man’s request.  (Ms. Goldberg says the doctor who did the implantation has marketed embryo selection for desired characteristics—hair and eye color, and the like.)  Because of complications, there is pressure on the woman to abort (at least?) one.  There are disputes about who—or whose insurance—pays for the woman’s care.  The intended “father” (forgive me, I feel compelled to use the quotation marks) is running out of money, wants to limit her prenatal care, and worries he can’t afford three babies.   Jennifer Lahl, of the Center for Bioethics and Culture, has gotten involved.  (Follow this link to a page for her video Breeders: A Subclass of Women?)  The story has been reported in the New York Post.  (It’s a couple months old.  I’m just learning about it now.)

This is all going on in California, where the law requires that both parties to these arrangements have their own attorneys, and that, in the presence of a contract, the gestational surrogate surrenders all parental rights.  (Courts cannot consider the best interests of the children in deciding legal challenges to this, Ms. Goldberg writes.)  There is no screening of intended parents.  Adoption it ain’t.  The law is described as friendly to the fertility “industry.”  There is baby selling.  There is corruption.  Surrogates get shafted, financially, when the counterparties to the contract (that phrase sounds so much more apt) can’t afford to pay them.

And this is only one example.  “There are 8 million stories in the naked city,” as the line went.

In her article, Ms. Goldberg argues for greater care in establishing surrogacy arrangements, and greater regulation over the whole practice.  Read the whole thing.

Again, I found this article thoughtful.  And I am sure that most people who enter into gestational surrogacy arrangements do so with good motives.  Why would you do it otherwise?  And I understand that some of these stories end at least apparently happily.

And yet, I cannot resist saying “Hello!  McFly!”  When we rend family and kinship and the begetting of children so radically, dare we be surprised when things go awry?  Dare we pretend we weren’t asking for it?  Dare we be so proud as to believe we can create a happy new human framework in common law, in a thicket of regulations, out of whole cloth?

I am in IMHO territory here.  Yes, I know about Abram and Sarai and Hagar.  I don’t read Genesis, or any other part of the Bible, as condoning such a thing.  Yes, I know that the Christian Medical and Dental Associations countenances gestational surrogacy in limited circumstances.  But I believe I must respectfully dissent.  Yes, I know that childlessness is an affliction, that the desire for children is so strong (I really know that), and that people have a right to their own choices.  But there are limits.

I do not seek to condemn anyone.  But IMHO, gestational surrogacy is wrong.  Period.

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Trevor Stammers
Trevor Stammers
4 years ago

The CMDA statement on the link says that “gestational surrogacy” is morally problematic. That does not sound like “countenancing” to me!

Jon Holmlund
Jon Holmlund
4 years ago

A fair criticism. In reply, let me expand a bit:

First, to be clear, I greatly admire CMDA and the ethics statements it has produced. CMDA’s leaders and members are certainly better ethicists and better Christians than I, plus they are real doctors. (I haven’t seen patients for years.) Several of them are my bioethics teachers and mentors. So, again, I do not mean to condemn anyone, and I seek to be careful in voicing my opinions. (“IMHO” stands for “in my HUMBLE opinion,” and I really do intend that.)

A footnote to the CMDA statement on assisted reproductive technology reads as follows: “Example of appropriate gestational surrogacy: The wife of a couple that has frozen embryos has a change in health status (e.g., loss of her uterus or a major medical problem) that prohibits her from providing gestation. Rather than have their embryos adopted (another acceptable alternative), the couple may choose a gestational surrogate to provide birth to their child.” As I wrote, this is a LIMITED circumstance. I note, on further review, that it includes the condition that embryos have already been created in IVF by a couple. And my understanding of the meaning of the verb “countenance” is to “admit as acceptable or possible.”

So CMDA does appear to “countenance” gestational surrogacy in this limited case. It clearly does NOT “countenance” gestational surrogacy more broadly.

And my point was that I am not sure I can get myself to concur, even in this limited case, challenging as it may be. I have the luxury of speaking only for myself and not having to bear the burden of speaking for a larger group. I would note that, as I have written on this TIU blog in the past, I am also reluctant to embrace IVF even within a committed, biblical marriage.

But again, Trevor’s comment does call for this elaboration on my part, and I thank him for the prompt.–JTH

Jennifer
Jennifer
4 years ago

That’s wonderful, aren’t you lucky. You have two beautiful biological children of your own. You didn’t have to take any risks yourself, other than the risk of your own wife giving her body up to give birth to them. What a perfect world this would be if every man could have a woman do this for him.

Trevor Stammers
Trevor Stammers
4 years ago

Thanks Jon, I had not seen the CMDA footnote.