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The ethics of surrogate mothers

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The new Vatican document on reproductive technologies, Dignitas Personae, makes only a brief, passing reference to one particular practice of assisted reproduction: surrogate motherhood. In this practice, a woman is commissioned or hired to gestate a baby whom she agrees to surrender to another family at birth. The genetic parents of the baby may include the gestating mother or one or both members of the couple who commissioned her, or one or both of the genetic parents may be third party egg or sperm donors.

Surrogate motherhood is always ethically and morally wrong. To put it more bluntly, surrogate motherhood is evil. In surrogacy, a child is commissioned (often purchased outright) as if he is a sculpture or a book rather than a human being.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, all reproductive technologies that involve outside donors, including practices from artificial insemination to surrogacy, "infringe the child's right to be born of a father and mother known to him and bound to each other by marriage" (CCC 2376). That paragraph bears a closer look, as it asserts a human right that many in the secular world have never even thought of:

All children have a right to be born to parents who are known to him.

This is a right written in the hearts of all babies. An infant knows his mother's voice before he is born. Newborns may not seem very aware of their surroundings — indeed, I have heard some atheists odiously describe them as not even being "sentient" — but they are, in fact, very aware of their surroundings, at least in the aspects that matter to them, and the item of foremost importance to a newborn is who his mother is.

Later in life, all human children are interested in their roots. They want to know who their biological mother and father are. If they are raised by others, this curiosity stays with them, sometimes turning into a burning search for their first parents.

According to another document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Donum Vitae,

Surrogate motherhood represents an objective failure to meet the obligations of maternal love, of conjugal fidelity and of responsible motherhood; it offends the dignity and the right of the child to be conceived, carried in the womb, brought into the world and brought up by his own parents; it sets up, to the detriment of families, a division between the physical, psychological and moral elements which constitute those families.
Though this statement comes from a Catholic document, it makes no appeal to strictly theological principles. It asserts that the wrongness of surrogacy can be understood according to the principles of natural law.

Surrogate motherhood and adoption share some similarities. In both situations, a child is raised by people other than the mother who bore him. As an adoptive mother myself, I am keenly aware of the inalienable fact that all adoptions begin with a tragedy: the separation of a child from his first mother. In her book of the same title, Nancy Verrier calls this event "the primal wound," a permanent blow to the heart of every child relinquished for adoption, even those adopted as newborns.

In adoption, the primal wound is unavoidable, a cross to bear, a part of what makes this world (to quote the prayer) a "valley of tears." Adoption by loving parents is a step in healing this wound in a child who otherwise would have no parents at all.

In surrogacy, however, the primal wound is not a tragic circumstance, but a premeditated act. The adult parties plan in advance to tear the newborn from the mother he knows, the one who carried him. Even for non-Christians, surrogate motherhood should be viewed as universally wrong and a violation of human rights.

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