Analysis: Parenthood in an Age of Surrogacy

Legal Battles and the “Ownership” of Babies

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The ever-widening use of IVF and surrogate mothers is continuing to create legal disputes and to expand the definition of parenthood.
Some of the latest news is about so-called three parent babies, with the latest experiments promising to lead to an imminent expansion of this technique. According to a June 8 news report on the New Scientist Website the first babies from this method could be born in a couple of years.
The aim of the method is to enable the birth of babies free from inherited mitochondrial diseases. The body of the egg, which has the DNA, is extracted from the birth mother, and inserted into a nucleus-free donated egg which has healthy mitochondrial.
The baby born as a result of this has in most part the DNA of the father and birth mother, but does also have a small amount of mitochondrial DNA from the donor of the egg.
The experiments were carried out at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Mitochondrial Disease at Newcastle University, UK. Already last year the Catholic bishops of England and Wales criticized the attempts to create three parent babies.
When the British parliament debated the legalization of the three parent technique early last year the bishops published a statement dated January 31 in which they pointed out that the procedure involves the destruction of human embryos.
“The human embryo is a new human life, and it should be respected and protected from the moment of conception,” they said.

Who is the mother?

Another technique using the aid of a third person to bring about a successful birth is the use of surrogate mothers. Its use has led to frequent legal disputes over rights to the babies.
Earlier this month a California mother of triplets lost her legal battle to be named as their mother, reported Reuters on June 8. Through the mediation of a surrogacy agency Melissa Cook carried the babies conceived as a result of the fertilisation of eggs from a father known only as C.M. and an anonymous egg donor.
In August 2015 three embryos were implanted in Cook’s womb and it turned out all three were viable. The father asked Cook to abort one of the fetuses. She refused, and as a result the relationship between the two became contentious.
Cook unsuccessfully asked the state courts to be named as the child’s mother and her latest action in a federal court was dismissed.
Back in England existing surrogacy laws which prevent single people from claiming parental rights will now have to change, following a decision by the Family Division of the High Court.
The court ruled that a single man who fathered a child via a surrogate mother had his right to raise the child discriminated against, the BBC reported May 23.
The man claimed that existing laws meant an application for a «parental order» could only be made by two people. As a result the government said it was now considering updating the legislation.
Labour member of parliament and former Social Security Minister Frank Field told The Mail on Sunday newspaper that: “In all these decisions, the natural rights of children get overlooked.”
“Parenting is a huge job and it’s about time that children are put centre stage, not selfish adults,” the May 22 article stated.

Third World exploitation

The use of surrogacy is contentious not only in Western countries, it also creates problems for Third World countries, which often provide the services of surrogate mothers at a lower cost.
A May 31 article published on the Atlantic magazine Website described how some Australian couples used Nepal to have children with surrogate mothers. In one case the total cost of the IVF procedure and other expenses would be $35,000, of which $10,000 would go to the surrogate mother.
For the Australian homosexual couple of Stephen and Michael it is illegal for them to pay for a surrogate mother in their own country. So last year the Indian mother went to Nepal to be impregnated with a donor egg from a South African woman fertilised with the sperm of one of the Australian couple.
Before the baby was born Nepal banned surrogate motherhood and the twins of the homosexual couple were left in legal limbo.
The Atlantic’s article pointed out that 30 years after the birth of the first surrogate baby, laws are still struggling to deal with the issue. Within the United States there is a wide variety of laws from state to state. A few countries allow commercial surrogacy, but in the last couple of years Thailand, India and Nepal have tightened their laws.
Critics of the recourse to Third World surrogacy by Western couples point to the dangers of the exploitation of poor women and the commodification of their bodies, the article explained.
“No country allows the sale of human beings – yet, who cares, so long as we are served cute images of famous people and their newborns?” commented Kajsa Ekis Ekman, a Swedish journalist and author of Being and Being Bought – Prostitution, Surrogacy and the Split Self.
Her comments came in an opinion article written for the Guardian newspaper on February 25 following a report by a government inquiry that recommended Sweden ban surrogacy.
She described surrogacy as an industry: “Where babies are tailor-made to fit the desires of the world’s rich. Where a mother is nothing, deprived even of the right to be called ‘mum,’ and the customer is everything.”
The Catholic Church has long warned that human life should not be treated as if it were a commercial product and the consequences of ignoring this warning are more evident each day.

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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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