by Jennifer Lahl, President and Founder of The Center for Bioethics and Culture Network
Here’s a headline you won’t read in American newspapers today as we continue with what has become a true political circus.
Recently in Europe, however, the Social Affairs Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe voted against the practice of all forms of surrogacy—commercial or altruistic, gestational or “traditional,”—rejecting a draft report on human rights and ethical issues related to surrogacy that called for regulation of the practice.
The European Parliament has already condemned the practice of surrogacy, so this majority vote by the Council of Europe, which represents 47 Member States, is additional, welcome news.
This is the correct position to take on the matter of surrogacy: not to regulate, which tacitly condones the practice, but to prohibit it altogether.
But what about here in the U.S., known throughout the world as the Wild Wild West of reproduction? My state of California is a leader in the global reproductive trade of eggs, sperm, wombs for hire, and babies. For example, Elton John and his partner David Furnish came to California twice to partake of our reproductive “services.” They bought eggs from women, and they hired surrogate mothers who gestated babies for them to take back to the United Kingdom.
Here in America, our lawmakers, our media, and our public citizens seem woefully unaware of the billions of dollars a year industry that has cropped up with almost no regulation. It literally is a business profiting from the buying and selling of reproductive bodies and the manufacturing of children who through contracts are sold to “intended parents.”
But what is so wrong with surrogacy, and why is this vote by the Council of Europe such welcome news?
Surrogacy undermines the dignity of women, the children born via this method, our bodies and their procreative capacities. Treating women as paid or unpaid breeders robs women of their inherent dignity and treats children as commodities to be bought, sold, and paid for. As one child conceived through the practice says in our film Breeders and in a separate interview I conducted with her last year, she is a product.
Surrogacy carries risks to women and children that are not present in an otherwise natural pregnancy. These high-tech assisted reproductive technologies (ART) are not only risky to the women but also the children born through ART/surrogacy. Surrogate mothers suffer higher rates of preeclampsia, maternal hypertension, and gestational diabetes, and the children suffer with higher rates of preterm birth. Often there are also all the complications of a multiple pregnancy as surrogate mothers frequently carry twins, triplets, or more—because these technologies are very expensive and have a high failure rate.
I recently attended a “Families Through Surrogacy” conference in London where one same-sex couple from Paris told me they had to use three egg donors and two surrogate mothers to finally have success with twins who will be born this year in Canada. They explained that they were already well “over our budget,” but happily awaiting the birth of the babies in Canada to take back to France, where all surrogacy is prohibited.
Surrogacy intentionally and without concern breaks important maternal-child bonds. As a pediatric nurse, I know how important and good bonding is to both mother and child. Our wombs are not arbitrary locations. Connections between mother and child begin in utero. One surrogate mother I spoke with in London said, “I just think of myself as the pre-birth babysitter.” This is simply not true. In fact, surrogacy intentionally breaks the bond and the lifelong connection that begins well before birth.
Surrogacy is exploitative and class based. Who buys and who sells? The wealthy buy and the low income and poor sell. Female college students are targeted and marketed to in order to sell their eggs. Low-income military wives are heavily marketed to and recruited to serve as paid surrogate mothers.
This broad social justice movement across the European continent is spreading to other places. India, Mexico, and Thailand have closed their borders to the international exploitation of their poor women and the trafficking of babies back to countries like France, Italy, and Germany.
But as these borders close and Europe positions themselves to prohibit and abolish surrogacy, it will become open season on women in the U.S., Canada, and other countries with permissive, relaxed surrogacy policies. America will increasingly be a destination for paying women to carry babies.
The Council of Europe should be widely commended for its action. I remain hopeful that political and religious leaders, the media, and even individual citizens in America will soon get their heads out of the sand on this issue. Far too much is at stake for us not to.