Surrogacy is mother of all ethical debates

The European Parliament voted against it in December, signalling that the commodification of humans is about what adults want, not what children need, says Margaret Hickey

Surrogacy is mother of all ethical debates

A CHILD surrogacy conference took place in Dublin on Mothers’ Day, March 6. The title was ‘Families Through Surrogacy’, and it was a trade fair for fertility centres and legal and medical professionals, who were promoting the expanding, international, assisted human reproduction (AHR) industry.

This conference was business-like. It focused on the practicalities, legalities, and logistics of surrogacy in the US. Agencies represented included the trans-national ‘Oregon Reproductive Medicine Ireland’ and various other US fertility centres, which had names like ‘Growing Generations’, ‘Hope Springs’ and ‘Create’. The cost of having a child through surrogacy averages €100,000. The surrogate mother gets €30,000, so she is by no means the main beneficiary. Costly, but, as the conference was told, this was the gold standard in reproductive technology, the Rolls Royce’ of AHR, not to be compared with cheaper alternatives from Asian countries.

Last Saturday, March 12, Galway University hosted a legal conference on surrogacy. Because this took place in an academic setting, with expert contributors, does not mean it was an open-minded discussion. On the contrary, the promotional material made it clear that the conference would address ‘a concern that the issue of surrogacy could lose priority’. That was an understated, and disingenuous, reference to the rising movement against surrogacy across Europe.

Universities should be platforms for debate, not for advocacy. Given its timing, it is hard not to see this conference as part of a comprehensive strategy to advance the case for surrogacy in Ireland

Coincidentally, last Friday week’s Late, Late Show included an interview with two gay men, who had triplets via a surrogate mother in the US, 15 years ago.

This was the soft sell of the same campaign to normalise the industry in Ireland, by building social acceptance for ‘families through surrogacy’. Ryan Tubridy’s sympathetic interview with the couple avoided any hard questions.

The presence of two of the triplets in the audience signalled that this would not be an appropriate forum for asking such hard questions, but also, more subtly, that it would be mean-spirited and impertinent to do so.

The appropriateness of using children to promote sensitive and complex adult agendas is questionable. Children living at home with their parents do not have the necessary perspective, and maturity, to comment on the potential impact their upbringing may have on them in future years.

Far better to ask adults who have been born through surrogacy how the circumstances of their birth, and parenting, affected them in later life. Of course, it is too soon to find such adults. There may, however, be something to learn from the testimonies of the adults born through sperm donation, some of whom, like Dr Joanna Rose, and Dr Robert Oscar Lopez, who were raised by lesbian parents, told their stories in the Irish media during the marriage-referendum campaign.

The 15-year-old daughter of the gay couple, who told Tubridy that having no mother was not a problem, as she had “lots of aunties and a godmother”, may see her situation differently when she becomes a woman, and a mother, herself.

Most aunts and godmothers are also mothers in their own right. They have their own children, who take priority in their lives.

The two gay fathers, no doubt, have nieces and nephews and godchildren, too, but these relationships were not enough for them.

Why is being a parent more important than having one? It is not to deny that the love and loyalty of that young girl to her ‘dad’ and her ‘daddy’ are real to say that her needs and theirs might not be the same.

The context in which this legal, commercial, and ideological campaign is taking place, in Ireland, is the rapidly changing attitude towards surrogacy, particularly in Europe.

Last December, the European Parliament voted against surrogacy in all its forms. Following a damning report on surrogacy commissioned by the Swedish government, that country is set to ban surrogacy, not only within its own borders, but also to prevent Swedes from travelling for surrogacy elsewhere.

Feminists in France have been campaigning against surrogacy, because “it exploits vulnerable women” and “commodifies children”.

We have seen the scandals of surrogate mothers being forced to abort babies with disability, or obliged to stay in mother-and-baby homes away from their families for the duration of their pregnancy, and having to do so in places like Nepal.

We have seen how a Japanese billionaire could order 16 children from different Thai clinics. Human beings are not meant to be traded and graded in this way.

The Family and Relationships Bill of 2015 shirked the issue of surrogacy. It will have to be revisited, in the light of equality legislation and the passing of the marriage referendum.

Families through sperm donation is already provided for in legislation. We need to take stock and ask how a child’s interest is served in either situation. Slick trade conferences, university endorsements, and soft-sell interviews that concentrate determinedly only on positives can’t hide the fact that surrogacy is about adults having what they want, rather than children having what they need.

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