Surrogacy is an arrangement whereby a woman agrees to become pregnant for the purpose of gestating and giving birth to a child for others to raise. The surrogate mother may be the child's genetic mother (the more traditional form of surrogacy), or she may be implanted with someone else's fertilized egg (gestational surrogacy). Surrogacy is generally used when a couple is unable to have children of their own; it is an alternative to adoption which allows one or both of the couple to be the child's genetic parent.
Surrogacy has a long history, but was not formally recognized until the late twentieth century. There are a number of emotional, legal, ethical, and social issues that the surrogate mother and contracting couple must pay heed to when deciding to put themselves in this situation. While surrogacy can be viewed in a positive light as providing a way for otherwise childless couples to have a child, forming a family, which is the basis unit of society. Since the family is such an essential institution in the fulfillment of human happiness, and the experience of parenting provides a unique opportunity to learn unconditional love, surrogacy can be seen as an invaluable benefit.
Nevertheless, there are justifiable concerns, and thus many legal restrictions. When payment for this service is involved, the process becomes questionable. A person who makes a living out of growing babies for others is violating the essential quality of creativity in this process. If the surrogacy is entered into for money, not love, the child has been treated as an object produced and sold by the surrogate mother. Even more problematic is the fact that the bond of marriage between a man and a woman becomes confused when a second woman enters the process, especially if she is the genetic mother. A baby reflects the characteristics of his or her genetic parents, and thus the parents see the surrogate mother in their child. The production of children is not a self-serving activity, but produces a lineage, an eternal connection between generations.
While the physical problems of infertility lead many to search for options such as surrogacy in order to achieve their family, such options involve serious risk. All those involved need to be mature, capable of unconditional love, and committed to the good of the child and the family to be established. Money cannot be the motivation if this process is to succeed.
The word surrogate, from Latin surrogatus (substituted), means appointed to act in the place of. A surrogate mother is a woman who agrees to bear a child for a couple who want to have children but are incapable. This may be due to the wife being infertile or physically incapable of carrying a developing fetus. In this case, the surrogate mother is the biological mother of the child, conceiving it through artificial insemination with sperm donated from the husband. Alternatively, the wife may be fertile but incapable of carrying a growing fetus. In these situations, the child is conceived by in vitro fertilization using the wife's eggs and her husband's sperm, and the resulting embryo is implanted in the surrogate mother's uterus and brought to term.
Types of surrogacy
There are two major types of surrogacy:
- Partial or genetic contracted motherhood (also known as "traditional" or "straight" surrogacy), in which the gestational mother is impregnated with the sperm of the commissioning father (usually through artificial insemination). In these cases, the woman who becomes pregnant is both the genetic and gestational mother of the child; however, she relinquishes her role of social mother to the commissioning mother.
- Complete or gestational contracted motherhood (also known as "host" or "gestational" surrogacy). Using in vitro fertilization (IVF), the intended parents produce an embryo that can then be transplanted into the surrogate mother for her to gestate and give birth to after nine months. In gestational contracted motherhood the pregnant woman makes no genetic contribution to the child; however, she is the child’s birth mother. In some cases, particularly of infertility, this may be combined with the use of donor sperm or donor eggs in creating the embryo for transfer.
Note that the term "biological mother" confuses the two sorts of surrogacy, and as such is best avoided. Also of note, the surrogate can have her pregnancy achieved (for expediency sake) via in vitro fertilization treatment. The surrogate's own eggs would still be used and would still be the genetic mother of the child. A sort of "hybrid" method of the two major forms of surrogacy.
Surrogacy has been around for centuries. The existence of the concept of one woman bearing a child for another dates back to the Old Testament, when Hagar, the maidservant of Sarah, lies with Abraham to bear a child for her infertile mistress. However, the first formal surrogacy agreement was not arranged until 1976, in the United States. After this, surrogacy was marketed as a solution for women with fertility issues. Firms and companies began to spring up dedicated to promoting surrogacy and taking care of surrogate mothers.
A landmark year for surrogate mothers was 1986, with the "Baby M" case. In 1984, William and Elizabeth Stern had contracted Mary Beth Whitehead to be their surrogate mother. When it came closer to the birth date, Whitehead decided to void the contract and keep the baby, rejecting the money offered with the contract. Whitehead was arrested and brought to court, where several trials followed to determine the legitimacy of Whitehead's claim: That the baby was indeed hers. In the end, the courts concluded that surrogacy contracts conflict with state public policy, but still permitted voluntary surrogacy. In effect, surrogacy contracts cannot be supported by law but are allowed to be created. In the case of Baby M, the Sterns were allowed to keep custody of the child, but Whitehead was granted visiting privileges.
In 1989, mainly in response to the Baby M case, the American Bar Association penned two alternative surrogacy laws. They were meant to be a template for states; many states had decided to either permit surrogacy or outlaw it completely. These laws made surrogacy a choice and makes contracts enforceable through court while prohibiting the creation of contracts that would void the birth mother of any role in the child's life. These laws were meant to be guidelines to states that were planning on adopting their own laws on surrogacy.
Within a few years of this, nineteen states adopted stances on surrogacy. Most of these were penned to discourage surrogacy and prevent the arrangement and monetary benefit of third parties.
The United States allows surrogacy to some degree in most states, with only a handful banning it completely. The District of Columbia and eleven states prohibited surrogacy agreements in all or some instances; and six states allow individuals and couples to enter into surrogacy contracts, some of them uncompensated agreements only. All states recognize birth certificates from surrogacy births. Criticism has been levied that in the United States, surrogacy is treated like a business process, with many surrogacy "firms" dedicated to the practice.
Countries have different stances on surrogacy. Western Europe and Australia have developed tight surrogacy laws which still allow the practice but make it difficult for the surrogate mother to receive proper financial compensation. Many Eastern European and Asian countries allow surrogacy. Unlike in Western Europe where a surrogate mother can claim the child to be hers at any time within the first two years, Asia and Eastern Europe have adopted contracts where the surrogate mother signs away any responsibility before the child is born. This is appealing for many westerners, especially in countries such as India, where western quality care is available at a much more affordable price.
Issues and controversies
Many emotional issues can arise in the course of a surrogate mother's term. The surrogate mother can become attached to the fetus and not want to give up the baby when she gives birth, as seen in the Baby M case. If the surrogate mother is cut off completely from the child, she may feel emotional distress at not being able to see the child develop and mature. There is also the debate concerning whether or not to tell the child, when they are old enough, of their situation, which can lead to stress between the parents and child.
There has also been considerable debate over the ethics of surrogacy.
The clearest argument for supporting surrogacy is that it allows couples who want a family, but who were prevented from having one by infertility, to have a child. Another argument is that people should be allowed to make personal arrangements with a surrogate as long as this arrangement does not harm others. Supporters claim that the child's rights can be protected if legal provisions are adequate and enforced. Supporters also argue that if a couple would go to such lengths to have a child, this child would very much be wanted and loved. Finally, proponents of surrogacy believe that most surrogate mothers are motivated by altruistic concerns for other women to have children, and that even if receiving payment, most entered the industry on the grounds of helping others.
The arguments against surrogacy include a consideration of the interests of the surrogate mother and the rights of the child. Some issues include:
- What happens if the surrogate mother or commissioning couple change their mind?
- What happens in the case of miscarriage or multiple births?
- What happens if the child has serious disabilities?
- What are the rights of the child?
- Should payment be involved?
Surrogacy arrangements involve not only the couple and the surrogate mother, but the child as well. Therefore, some argue that society has a right to prohibit surrogacy in order to prevent the child from undesirable circumstances. There has also been some religious opposition to surrogacy. For example, the Vatican issued a statement rejecting surrogate motherhood, finding that it is not morally licit because it is contrary to unity of marriage and the dignity of procreation of the human person.
Gay and lesbian surrogacy
The lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community has also looked to surrogacy as a means of starting a family. However, some states and countries limit surrogacy to married couples only. In the United States, same-gender marriage is not legalized, making this a difficult obstacle to pass. Adoption laws vary concerning same-gender couples, which places more difficulty on such couples choosing surrogacy when many places consider surrogacy and adoption to be very similar. However, surrogacy is an attractive alternative for gay and lesbian couples because it allows at least one of the potential parents to have a biological connection with the child.
One of the main concerns of surrogacy is the treatment of children as commodities. Surrogacy can be considered paying for the creation of children. This turns children into a resource and the surrogate mothers into the care taker of that resource. This creates the problem of the contracting parents viewing the mother as more of an object than a person. Often, there is no contingency planning should complications arise in the pregnancy with the surrogate mother or the contracting parents. This can lead to confusion over whom the baby lives with or even who the proper mother is.
A noticeable trend in surrogate motherhood is that the contracting parents are often upper-middle class while the surrogate mother is working or lower class. This has led many to speculate that this situation is a way that the rich take advantage of the poor, by using their bodies and offering money as compensation. Many couples are embarrassed to say that they used a surrogate mother because they feel their child will be looked at as not their own, even if he or she was fully raised by the contracting parents.
- Online Etymology Dictionary, Surrogate. Retrieved July 12, 2007.
- Barbara Rothman, Recreating Motherhood: Ideology and Technology in a Patriarchal Society (W.W. Norton and Co Inc, 1990). ISBN 978-0393307122
- Staff Writer, Surrogacy—The Issues. Retrieved July 12, 2007.
- Carmel Shaley, Birth Power: The Case for Surrogacy (Yale University Press, 1991). ISBN 978-0300051186
- Staff Writer, Surrogacy Laws: State by State.
- Staff Writer, Compass—Surrogate Moms. Retrieved July 16, 2007.
- Sudha Ramachandran, India's New Outsourcing Business—Wombs. Retrieved July 16, 2007.
- Law Reform Commission, Artificial Conception: Surrogate Motherhood. Retrieved July 12, 2007.
- Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Respect for Human Life. Retrieved July 12, 2007.
- Staff Writer, Surrogacy.
ReferencesISBN links support NWE through referral fees
- MacKlin, Ruth. 1994. Surrogates & Other Mothers: The Debates over Assisted Reproduction. Temple University Press. ISBN 978-1566391801
- Ragone, Helena. 1994. Surrogate Motherhood: Conception in the Heart. Westview Press. ISBN 978-0813319797
- Rothman, Barabra. 1990. Recreating Motherhood: Ideology and Technology in a Patriarchal Society. W.W. Norton and Co Inc. ISBN 978-0393307122
- Shaley, Carmel. 1991. Birth Power: The Case for Surrogacy. Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0300051186
- Ziegler, Stacy. 2004. Pathways to Parenthood: The Ultimate Guide to Surrogacy. Brown Walker Press. ISBN 978-1581124347
All links retrieved February 26, 2023.
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