Commercial surrogacy is a win-win situation for everyone involved. Is not it? A childless single or couple will have the baby they want. The surrogate mother is financially rewarded. And the baby grows up in a loving home.
Of course, reality is much more complex and often has a very dark side, but how did we get here? How did we get to a point where surrogacy debate is almost impossible? We witnessed the very ugly scenes last week at the Oireachtas committee tasked with reviewing legislation regulating surrogacy. The committee was eventually suspended.
Something Senator Sharon Keogan said during this debate, that the committee should not be used as an “echo chamber for opinion” and that it should allow room for all perspectives, rings very true.
We need to talk about surrogacy, but due to the emotional nature of surrogacy, we need cool heads, honesty, and openness. We don’t need angry couples. In fact, it might be better not to include those directly affected by childlessness. How can they be expected to be rational and objective on an issue that has likely ruined their lives?
Surrogacy is an ethical minefield and at some point we have to draw a line. It is better to draw that line in a neutral, objective environment where we can examine these questions without breaking fiction. The current committee doesn’t seem to be that place.
It’s definitely not a new idea. Surrogacy dates back to the book of Genesis, with Hagar the slave giving birth to Abraham’s son Ishmael. But advances in medicine have made all sorts of complex egg-sperm-embryo permutations possible. These scenarios were so unlikely until recently that Irish law – and our morality – has not had time to catch up.
There are no surrogacy laws in Ireland. It is neither legal nor illegal. A new law, the Assisted Human Reproduction Act, is due to come before the Oireachtas this year, covering areas like surrogacy and IVF.
Meanwhile, the government has decided to set up this special Oireachtas committee to discuss international surrogacy and the procedures for recognizing the relationships between parents and children born through surrogacy.
Senator Keogan said she doesn’t believe it is “everyone’s right to have a child.” This seemed to cause a lot of outrage. But nobody has a “right” to children, right?
As the UN rapporteur who warned against selling babies said, “under international law there is no right to a child”. Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, who submitted a report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva a few years ago, said: “Children are not goods or services that the state can guarantee or provide. They are people with rights.”
What about the rights of donor children as they grow up and inevitably start asking questions about their life story? Is the donor process “eugenics lite” or just like prospective adoptive parents picking babies or children from catalogues?
Can and should a pregnancy be funded with money? What’s a reasonable daily rate to walk the daunting tightrope walk that every minute of pregnancy is? What if the surrogate changes her mind? After all, it’s her body and her decision. This isn’t uncommon, according to Ukraine’s Ministry of Justice figures, but like so much about surrogacy, there is no reliable data.
Then there are gay couples. Her right to have children through surrogacy is increasingly viewed as a triumph of tolerance over old Catholic Ireland. Some gay people claim denying them this right is tantamount to homophobia. But does it? You can be a strong advocate for same-sex parents, but still think surrogacy is deeply problematic.
Poverty will always make consenting to surrogacy abroad questionable. The surrogate mother probably does it less voluntarily than putting food on the table. She’s also the last link in a chain of actors who all make big bucks from their reproductive work. There are third party administrators, travel agents, surrogacy agencies, lawyers and of course the doctors who soak up the profits.
India banned commercial surrogacy for foreigners in 2018 after shocking reports surfaced of conditions surrogates faced, including overcrowding and isolation. Women signed contracts in English and were forced to leave their families and children to await pregnancy in maternity hospitals where they could be monitored. They had no control over the medical procedures they would undergo.
Thailand banned foreign surrogacy in 2015 after an Australian couple entered into a surrogacy agreement to give birth to their twins, only to have a baby left after it was born with Down syndrome. To add insult to injury to this horrifying story, it was later revealed that the Australian father had a history of child sexual abuse.
Some activists argue that commercial surrogacy should be allowed here. This would bring us closer to a place like California where outsourcing your pregnancy can be a bit like paying someone to clean your house.
By banning commercial surrogacy, are we just taking advantage of some of the world’s poorest women? Should we acknowledge that the only way we can hope to ensure acceptable standards is by allowing properly regulated commercial surrogacy in Ireland?
We will only find the answers if we stop and have a perfectly honest conversation. Without resorting to hysteria and insults.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/we-need-to-take-a-cool-and-calm-approach-when-tackling-the-minefield-of-surrogacy-41583502.html We must take a cool and calm approach when tackling the surrogacy minefield