Surrogate Motherhood

Concerns Grow Over Exploitation of Women

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The growing practice of using surrogate mothers for infertile or same-sex couples is drawing increased attention.

The demand for surrogacy is growing, as data from Israel shows. Israel’s High Court recently heard a case involving a same-sex couple in which it came out that in the last eight years there have been 314 cases of overseas surrogacy for Israelis, and 70% of them took place in the last two years, the newspaper Haaretz reported Feb. 3.

The High Court asked the government to consider easing some of the procedures Israelis have to go through to adopt children born of surrogate mothers. If this is done it could well lead to a further increase in cases of surrogacy.

Concern over the exploitation of women in poorer countries by Western couples has led the Indian government to introduce restrictions. From now on only couples married for two years and from countries where surrogacy is legal will be able to obtain the services of surrogate mothers, Australia’s ABC radio reported Jan. 15.

According to the report prior to the new restrictions about 200 children a year were being born in India for Australian couples, but that number will now drastically decline.

The case against the use of surrogate mothers was made in a report just published by Ireland’s Iona Institute, titled, “The Ethical Case Against Surrogate Motherhood: What We Can Learn from the Law of Other European Countries.”

The report follows comments last year by Ireland’s Justice Minister, Alan Shatter, who announced the government planned to regularize surrogacy.

An object

“Surrogacy compromises the dignity of the child by making the child the object of a contract—a commodity,” the report argued. “It further compromises the dignity of the mother, even if her participation is voluntary, by merely treating her as a ’womb for hire’,” it added.

Surrogacy creates a situation where up to five people have some sort of claim on a child – the adopting couple, the genetic parents, and the surrogate mother – the Iona Institute pointed out.

It is virtually uncontested, the report continued, that children do better when brought up by their own biological parents. Given this it is legitimate for governments to have laws that support such families.

The commodification of children in surrogacy was highlighted by the report when it mentioned that due to the high costs involved couples tend to have the mentality that they deserve children who are more likely to be good-looking and successful in life.

Evidence shows that there is high demand for women who donate ova who are good-looking and have high IQs. Potential donors need to answer detailed questions about their physical attributes, family background and academic record. Many clinics also use pre-implantation diagnosis to screen for any genetic defects and also to select the sex of the baby.

The report also mentioned the difficulties faced by surrogate mothers. Even though they are aware of the commercial nature of their pregnancy, nevertheless many find it difficult to distance themselves emotionally from the child they bore. There is little data available on the long-term effects for surrogate mothers, the Iona Institute noted, but it is reasonable to expect that there will be psychological consequences.

As well, once the children find out they are not the natural offspring of their legal parents then, as with adopted children, this can create problems. In the case of surrogate children the situation is even worse as they were not given up by their mother due to adverse circumstances, but as a result of a commercial arrangement.


The report also argued that in some cases surrogate motherhood can be similar to human trafficking. It cited cases from some Asian countries where illegal surrogacy rings imprisoned and even forcibly impregnated women with embryos created from other women.

In India many of the women who act as surrogate mothers are from poor rural backgrounds and are vulnerable to exploitation. The money such women gain through being surrogates is certainly welcome, but the Iona Institute observed, “poverty does not allow for a truly free choice to be made.”

“Women’s bodies become commodities through which others can purchase what they wish to have, and most or all care, concern, and medical attention is directed at the child while the surrogate mother is left to fend for herself,” the report commented.

Surrogacy reduces both the mother and the baby to commodities and as this is a violation of human dignity it should be banned by governments, the Iona Institute insisted.

Adoption is substantially different from surrogacy, the report argued. In adoption the birth mother makes a decision based on what is best for the child. By contrast, in surrogacy the decision is made by the adopting parents based on what is best for them. “It is therefore inherently adult-centred in a way adoption is not,” the report added.

The increasing trend to the legalization of same-sex marriages will inevitably lead to higher demand for surrogate babies, with all the negative consequences identified by the Iona Institute.

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Full text of report:

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Fr. John Flynn

Australia Bachelor of Arts from the University of New South Wales. Licence in Philosophy from the Pontifical Gregorian University. Bachelor of Arts in Theology from the Queen of the Apostles.

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