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Why surrogacy is not a noble cause?

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To many, surrogacy may seem like a very human-centered practice with only positive consequences for each party: the infertile couple gets the child they want; surrogate mother receives money for her needs; the child gets life [1]. But in reality, surrogacy is a very problematic practice from an ethical point of view. It raises such serious moral issues as dehumanization of children and surrogate mothers, buying and selling of women’s bodies and children, etc. Many say that despite some ethical issues, surrogacy is still necessary because every person has the right on the child. But the right to have a child is not the same as the desire to have a child. No one can claim the right to own a person, and a child is a real person. Therefore, infertile couples do not have the right to have children. Children simply cannot be the object of law. They themselves have human rights.

Surrogacy is a practice in which a woman (surrogate mother) carries and gives birth to a child with the aim of immediately handing it over to the intended parents who will raise it. Usually, a pair of intended parents is infertile. The classification of surrogate motherhood is twofold: depending on the degree of involvement of the surrogate mother and depending on the presence or absence of a financial part. If the surrogate mother is the only biological mother of the child (she gives an egg to conceive a child and carries it), surrogate motherhood is called traditional. If the surrogate mother shares biological motherhood with another woman (egg donor), the surrogacy is called gestational surrogacy (the surrogate mother carries a child conceived not from her own egg). If carrying a child by a surrogate mother is paid, we are talking about commercial surrogacy. If it is unpaid, it is altruistic surrogacy. None of these types of surrogacy (traditional or gestational, commercial or altruistic) are morally acceptable.

The first moral challenge is to identify the child’s mother. In traditional surrogacy, we have one biological (surrogate) and one social (intended) mother. In gestational surrogacy, there are two biological mothers: the egg donor and the uterus donor. Many believe that biological parentage equals genetic parentage, but this is not the case. DNA does not exhaust human physiology. For example, the child receives the immune system and defense mechanisms from the mother who bears it, and not from the genetic mother. So, the question surrogate motherhood raises, who is the mother of the child, is very serious. In particular, if we think about who is the biological mother in gestational surrogacy. Is it “normal” to have two biological mothers? No, and the child will feel this abnormality, trying to identify himself/herself. The child’s difficulty in self-identification is the real moral problem. The main difficulty for a child in self-identification is that the identity of the surrogate mother (wholly or partially the child’s biological mother) is covered by secret. Reproductive clinics usually do not provide any information about the identity of the surrogate mother, so it is absolutely impossible to find this person. The lack of opportunity to see (at least once) the biological mother or one of the biological mothers provokes a crisis of self-identification of the human persone. Another moral challenge is the dehumanization of the child. In commercial surrogacy, the child becomes an object of purchase and sale. Many supporters of surrogate motherhood say that children are never an object of purchase and sale, and such an object is only a function of the female body (gestational function), but this is not so. For one simple reason. If the object of sale were only the functions of the woman’s body, the surrogate mother would have to receive the entire fee after giving birth. Instead, she receives most of the money only if the intended parents take the child. If they change their mind or the newborn child seems to them not good enough (bad appearance, developmental defects, health problems) and they do not accept it, then in this case most of the money is not paid to the surrogate mother. Therefore, the object of the contract of sale is not only the body of the woman, but also the child. The sale of female body parts or functions is ethically problematic in itself, let alone the sale of children, which is a true form of new slavery. If surrogate motherhood is altruistic, then there are no problems with buying and selling, but there is another moral problem: the terrible entanglement of family ties (most often altruistic surrogate motherhood is between relatives).

A child born through surrogacy suffers more than other subjects involved, but so does also the surrogate mother. Surrogate motherhood acutely raises the question of the exploitation of the female body and the reduction of a woman to a simple incubator. It is true that the main culprit in her dehumanization is the woman herself, because she agreed to be a surrogate mother, but still her dehumanization remains a problem. Selling bodily functions makes a woman look like a prostitute. The surrogate mother is also deprived of the right to have feelings for the child, since she must be ready to give it up immediately after birth. Therefore, no one cares about her feelings if she does not want to give the child away after birth.

Surrogacy affects not only individuals, but also their families. In the surrogate mother’s family, her husband and children suffer from surrogate motherhood (the husband has negative feelings during his wife’s pregnancy with another man’s child; children suffer from the absence of a mother (usually the surrogate mother does not live at home during the last period of pregnancy) or from the fact that their mother has abandoned the child after birth, if they are witnesses of her pregnancy). The family of a child born through surrogacy suffers the most from a broken structure (usually the man in this family is the genetic father of the child, and the mother is not the biological mother or is half the biological mother, so the husband and wife are not in an equal position with respect to the child and this provokes disharmony between them).

In summary, surrogacy is deeply ethically problematic. The selfish desire of the intended parents to have their “own” child and the no less selfish desire of the surrogate mother to earn money harms them, but most of all the child.

dr Mariya Yarema
[1] Cf. Miranda, D. (Eds.). (2017). Babies for Sale?: Transnational Surrogacy, Human Rights and the Politics of Reproduction. London: Zed Books, 256. Retrieved November 2, 2021, from

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