Abortion is not the only issue image

Abortion is not the only issue

The 50th anniversary of the Abortion Act has provoked a slew of comment (not least Phil’s excellent contribution on Think). But abortion is not the only ethical issue affecting babies and women’s bodies.

Recently I’ve noticed that when teaching on ethics people are beginning to ask about surrogacy. This isn’t a question that used to be asked. Exactly how many surrogate births happen each year in the UK is not easy to pin down, but one indication is the number of parental orders. The Guardian reported last year that,

Almost two-thirds of all UK parental orders – legal rights conferred on parents who have commissioned a child from a surrogate – are now for a baby born overseas. In the past three years, more than 1,000 UK couples and individuals have secured the services of surrogates abroad, the highest number from any European country.

This would indicate that the number of surrogacies is not high, though it still represents a significant number in total. And the ethical issues are substantial.

I have tended to answers the questions I have been getting about surrogacy along the following lines:
1. Surrogacy involving donor eggs or sperm carries all the ethical problems raised by IVF in general.
2. The use of donor gametes is ethically problematic because it involves a third party in the relationship. For the Christian this should be a clear no-no as it is effectively adultery.
3. Then there is the problem of the creation of ‘spare’ embryos. A Christian worldview that understands life beginning at the point of conception will reject the creation of life that is then intentionally destroyed.

To me, those things are clear. But what of a couple who use their own fertilised embryo, which is then carried by a surrogate? In that case #3 still applies, and that on its own would be sufficient for me to counsel against it. What I hadn’t given sufficient attention to was the rights of the child itself.

Writing in Australian publication Sunday Guardian Live Catherine Lynch spells the issues out loud and clear:

All surrogacy is cruel to human infants because even so-called “altruistic surrogacy” demands the removal of the neonate from her or his gestational mother when every aspect, every cell, every desire of that neonate, is geared toward being on the body of the gestational mother, to suckle and seek comfort and safety… The gestational mother is the only person the child knows when they are born. For every single child, their “mother” is acknowledged as the woman who created that baby by taking them from embryo to fully formed infant, throughout nine months of symbiotic gestation, establishing that person’s first relationship with a human adult, the destruction of which damages both mother and child. The gestational mother is the natural parent of her own child, whether or not she used her own eggs or implanted a donor embryo.

The whole article is worth reading. You can find it here.

Lynch concludes with a passionate appeal to law makers to resolve this issue:

It is urgent that nations around the world bring in legislation that enacts the rights of children under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child which in Article 9 gives every human being the right not to be separated from their parents. This legislation protection is best achieved by an explicit acknowledgement in domestic laws that we stand by our commitment to respect the rights of every child to remain with and be brought up by their gestational mother.

Surrogacy is unlikely ever to affect the number of lives that have been touched by abortion, but it is part of the same process of the commodification of reproduction. We should resist.



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