Surrogacy: An LGBT Equality Advocate’s Perspective

Please note these are remarks prepared for a panel discussion in Madrid, Spain, 26 April 2017

My name is Gary Powell. I have been an advocate for gay, lesbian and bisexual equality since my late teens. I also oppose surrogacy: both commercial surrogacy, and so-called altruistic surrogacy. I do not believe there is any universal human right to be a parent, and I do not believe that the campaign to legalise and facilitate surrogacy has anything to do with LGBT equality.

When I was at Oxford University in the 1980s, one of my tutors was the philosopher Baroness Mary Warnock, who had just chaired the Committee of Inquiry into Human Fertilisation and Embryology, which led to the famous Warnock Report. This influential report in turn led in the UK to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, regulating human fertility treatment and human embryo experimentation, and also the Surrogacy Arrangements Act 1985.

Baroness Warnock and I once discussed the ethics of surrogacy, and I recall her support for surrogacy arrangements so long as they did not involve commercial payment. To me at the time, that seemed to be a reasonable position. However, recent years have led to me finding out more about the issue of surrogacy, including how it can involve the exploitation and commodification of women and children, as well as medical and psychological harm.

We know that the surrogacy process can cost up to $100,000. If surrogacy does provide equality to wealthy gay people in terms of enabling them to become parents, then it mainly provides this equality to those who enjoy the inequality of great wealth. Commercial surrogacy is mainly the privilege of the wealthy. I also regard so-called altruistic surrogacy with significant expenses payments as commercial surrogacy. There is apparently no legally-defined upper limit for such expenses in the UK. The usual expenses sums I have heard of amount to a salary in my view.

There have been some worrying developments in gay and lesbian politics in recent years. In the West, the progress in acceptance and legal equality has been phenomenal, and I applaud that wholeheartedly. However, as is the case with other minority groups, a position has been reached where many people have become eager to virtue-signal their support for LGBT rights, and frightened to say anything that might get them accused of “homophobia”. This encourages a reluctance to challenge unfair demands and behaviour, and encourages positive discrimination, where LGBT people are treated more favourably than non-LGBT people, and it is wrong. Positive discrimination in favour of person A is necessarily negative discrimination against person B. This has never been what I campaigned for. I am seeing it again and again. The worry is that, having made so much progress, there are sections of the LGBT community that are overreaching themselves, looking for new issues to commandeer as gay rights issues, in quite an aggressive and unreflective way.

The claimed right to have children via surrogacy risks becoming one such issue. I have already seen surrogacy being referred to as an LGBT rights issue. What seems to happen is that such claims can end up achieving a critical mass of support among LGBT people and well-meaning supporters. When that happens, they risk becoming mainstream.

If a pretended right to surrogacy eventually succeeds in becoming a mainstream LGBT rights issue, people will start to get shouted down when they express opposition to surrogacy, and accused of homophobia. More people will be frightened to express doubts and concerns. More and more bandwagon virtue-signallers, as well as genuinely well-meaning people, will sing the praises of surrogacy as a putatively beautiful way of promoting LGBT equality. It will be very difficult to row back from that point if it arrives.

For all the arguments about equality and progress advanced by the supporters of surrogacy, there seems to be scant consideration for the well-being of the people brought into the world via this route, or for the women psychologically and physically harmed by this process. As these issues were covered in the film Breeders: A Subclass of Women?, and as they are likely to be spoken about by other panel members, I will avoid detailing the potential physical and psychological harm caused to children and to birth mothers in this brief introduction. I would like to stress, though, that the risk of harm to children implies that surrogacy is a safeguarding issue. Safeguarding issues tend to be taken seriously in the West these days, but it does not yet feel as though the safeguarding concerns associated with surrogacy are getting proper recognition. Surrogacy is also an issue that must include discussions about the exploitation of economically poor women, and about the risk to women’s health.