Usually, the only ethical decisions involved in starting a family are related to preparedness. Are you ready to have a child? Do you have the finances available to ensure this child will be able to eat and have clothes to wear? Are you willing to give up the spare time the childless state involves, and dedicate that time to raising someone into a contributing member of society?
But in some cases, there may be questions of morals or ethics that arise even before a child is born. Sometimes, there are obstacles in the way of having a child, such as health risks for a potential mother and unborn baby, that make it obvious that deciding to go ahead and have a child regardless is an unethical decision. In some cases, it may not even be ethics; it may be physically impossible to give birth to a child, such as in the case of same-sex male marriages, when a woman, for medical reasons, has had her uterus surgically removed.
This can sometimes lead hopeful families to look at other alternatives to start a family, such as going the route of surrogacy. But when these couples start looking at this option, what are the ethical issues they face? And is there a way to resolve them?
Adoption Or Surrogacy
One of the biggest ethical issues many hopeful families face right from the beginning is whether surrogacy is the right choice to make at all. Adoption, for example, is another alternative, and choosing to go the route of adoption means opening a home to a child—or infant—that has already been born but, for one reason or another, is now without a family and in need of one. An adoption is an act of generosity, giving a child who has no family, a second chance to grow up in one.
For most hopeful families that are thinking about surrogacy, the biggest concern is that of genetics. In Vitro Fertilization or IVF, makes it possible for a man and a woman to donate their sperm and egg, have it fertilized in a lab, and then have that fertilized egg implanted in a surrogate mother. This means that, as with a traditional pregnancy, the child that is born will have 50% of the genetic characteristics of the father, and 50% from the mother. The only difference is that the child was nurtured in, and delivered from, another woman’s womb.
Choosing to adopt means that there are many legal and bureaucratic requirements that must be met. Hopeful parents must prove, throughout the application process, that they are “worthy” parents to receive a child, so while it may not be as potentially expensive as surrogacy, adoption takes the ethical standing of potential parents very seriously and must approve of a parental application.
A very important ethical consideration that hopeful parents must also ensure they resolve is the respect and treatment of the surrogate mother herself. As a woman that is choosing to bear the child of other people and then willingly allow that child to go to his or her intended family after birth, she is taking on enormous responsibility for the benefit of others. Even if she is paid, as in a compensated surrogacy, her allowance of her womb to grow a child is no small feat, and she deserves all the respect accorded to her.
Sadly, this is not always the case with hopeful parents. One of the most tragic examples of disrespecting a surrogate mother led to a change of laws in Thailand. In 2014, an Australian worked with a Thai surrogate mother so she could help them start her family. However, a medical exam revealed that the surrogate mother was not only pregnant with twins, but one of them was diagnosed as having Down’s Syndrome.
The hopeful Australian family demanded the Thai surrogate mother ignore her religious convictions and abort the “defective” baby that they didn’t want. The surrogate mother refused. Once the children were born, the Australian couple left with the “good” baby and abandoned the child with Down’s Syndrome to the surrogate mother. The Thai government, outraged at how poorly a surrogate mother had been treated, changed the laws after this, so foreigners could no longer use Thai women as surrogate mothers.
The Post-Birth Relationship
A question that some hopeful families may need to ask and answer is whether or not a surrogate mother will have any relationship with a child after birth has occurred. In some cases, such as a compensated surrogacy in another country, where legal contracts have been signed, laws are enforced to discourage this. Georgia, for example, ensures full legal custody of a newborn to the hopeful parents, not the surrogate mother that gave birth to the child.
In other instances, however, parents may want to consider some kind of ongoing relationship. An altruistic surrogacy, where the surrogate mother is a family member of the couple, for example, is likely to mean that a relationship after birth should be encouraged if parents don’t wish any awkwardness at family gatherings.
As always, these are choices that each hopeful family must make for themselves.