The Surrogacy Debate

 
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Born to a “gestational carrier,” the arrival of a little girl named Faith to celebrity parents Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban revived the debate surrounding surrogacy. A wide range of issues about money, commercialisation, child welfare, current laws, medical science, care for the birth mother, effects on the family and moral values are on the table.

In America, couples seeking a surrogate parent can expect to pay around $US150K–$US190K. Most of these fees are medical, but around 20 per cent is for the surrogate mother. Consequently, some see surrogacy as inequitable because poorer couples can’t afford it.

On the other hand, surrogacy in India—legal since 2002—poses a different problem for the poorer classes. Dr Gillian Lockwood, a fertility doctor and vice-chairman of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists’ ethics committee in Britain, raised the concern that the money Indian women could receive was enough to buy a house or send their children to school. Because of this, she believes many women may feel obligated to participate in order to raise money for their families.

In order to prevent the commercialisation of surrogacy, changes to Australian laws have been introduced. Effective from March 1, the Surrogacy Act 2010 has made it illegal for New South Wales residents to pay surrogates, whether in Australia or overseas, or to advertise for prospective surrogate mothers. Penalties can include large fines of over $A100,000 and/or up to two years in prison.

Hollywood’s example reveals that many celebrities now appear unfazed about outsourcing their reproduction. Actors like Robert De Niro, Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick, and Kelsey Grammer are all surrogate parents. Shortly after the arrival of baby Faith, 63-year-old musician Elton John also received a surrogate son.

The late Michael Jackson’s surrogate child was referred to as a “designer” baby—one woman was selected for her genetic material and another as the birth mother. In Kidman and Urban’s case, their own genetic material was taken and developed in a lab up to embryonic stage. After that it was transferred into the birth mother—the gestational carrier. In this way, a baby is “given” its own genetic parents. Those two methods differ from the traditional one where another father provides a sperm donation or where a surrogate mother is used.

The question of adoption versus surrogacy has also attracted attention in Hollywood, with Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt adopting children from Ethiopia, Vietnam and Cambodia (and Haiti, if recent rumours are to be believed), all Third World countries. That has raised another question: Is it better to adopt and benefit an underprivileged or orphaned child?

Other conflicting opinions continue, with some believing that the surrogate mother’s feelings and role in the child’s birth have been badly undervalued. While some “birth mothers” have been reported to be just as happy for another couple to have the same joy that they have from their own children, some have admitted to struggling mentally to come to terms with giving the baby away, while others have simply been unable to give up the baby.

The concept of a woman receiving a baby she hasn’t carried and given birth to is becoming more widely accepted and has been viewed by some professionals as unimportant, contending that the most important thing is that the child is loved by whoever receives it. It has been said that their yearning to have a child is sure indication that the child will be truly wanted and loved, arguing that some couples who have their own children don’t seem to care for them half as much.

Is it worthwhile asking where all this will end up? Truly the world’s traditional social and moral conventions have changed in the West. But whether the changes will benefit future generations is a point of contention.

Surrogacy has been approached differently by various governments. With ethical questions such as, “Are birth mothers exploited?” and, “Are surrogate babies treated as a trophy?” it’s no wonder debate has been hot.

But for people unable to have children and who are genuinely seeking solutions, can God help? The Bible contains the story of Hannah, a childless woman who, after praying, received a child. Then there’s Abraham and Sarah, who received a child God promised them.

However, as these two people experienced, such intense total surrender to God’s will can still seem fruitless when the desire to have a child is unfulfilled (Abraham and Sarah lost faith and had a child, Ishmael, through the surrogate, Hagar). And sometimes it’s only in hindsight that we can rest assured that God, our adopted Father, is paying close attention to us, will never leave or forsake us, and always has our best interests in His loving heart.

Surrogacy laws

  • New Zealand: The Ethics Committee on Assisted Reproductive Technology (ECART) gives approval on a case-by-case basis. These include a requirement that the surrogacy be non-commercial.
  • Australia: Commercial surrogacy is illegal in all states, while altruistic surrogacy is allowed in some. In WA and SA, altruistic surrogacy is banned for single people and same-sex couples. Tasmania has banned all forms of surrogacy.

In general terms, there are two kinds of surrogacy: commercial surrogacy is where a woman is paid to carry a child, while no money is exchanged in altruistic surrogacy.