Many people who get into committed relationships decide to take things to the next level and start a family. Not all of them have the option of doing it the traditional way, with natural pregnancy and a baby born nine months later. Some people have medical conditions, such as fertility issues resulting in chronic miscarriage. Others, such as same-sex male couples, don’t have a uterus or egg available between either partner for traditional conception.
Surrogacy is one solution to this problem. This is an age-old technique where another woman agrees to become pregnant. Once she gives birth to the baby, the newborn is introduced to his or her new parents, and they begin a new life together as a family.
Surrogacy, however, brings some questions with it, some of them ethical. While the technique and technology for surrogacy are well-established, what is the moral and ethical implication of this technique? There are a few issues that hopeful families need to explore and answer for themselves.
Ethical vs. Legal
One of the first issues to contend with is the idea of right and wrong versus legal and illegal. Different parts of the world have different ideas of what is considered legally acceptable, and these laws don’t’ always line up with the moral scale. Homosexuality, for example, is still regarded as illegal in many nations of Asia. People can be criminally charged for engaging in homosexual acts. Yet, in other countries, such as the United Kingdom, it is not only legal; it is legal to get married to a member of the same sex. In the same vein, chewing gum is an illegal, contraband substance in Singapore. At the same time, other nations sell it freely in stores.
Surrogacy is another area ethical and legal are sometimes at cross purposes. Countries like Germany and France have banned any sort of surrogacy. Other countries, like Canada, have legalized compassionate/altruistic surrogacy. This type of surrogacy is where the surrogate mother only receives financial support for living and medical expenses but gets no remuneration for herself. Other countries, like Georgia, and some states in the USA, have legalized “compensated surrogacy” where the surrogate mother can receive significant financial recognition for her contribution.
Each hopeful family will have to look at their wishes, as well as the legal status of surrogacy in their country of residence, and see whether there’s a match or a clash between the two needs, and make a decision for themselves.
Adoption vs. Surrogacy
Another ethical issue that some hopeful parents will think about is choosing surrogacy to start a family or choosing adoption. Like ethics issues with surrogacy, adoption is an ancient method of bringing a new addition to a family, where prospective parents allow a child with no parents into their home and take up that role for the new arrival. This is a very different approach from surrogacy, which is a deliberate effort to bring a newborn baby into the world for the express desires of hopeful parents.
The ethics of this depends entirely on the needs of hopeful parents. In one sense, both surrogacy and adoption are about “picking” a child. Hopeful parents considering adoption go through a rigorous selection process where they are forced to confront the limits of their tolerance. It’s not unusual, for example, for hopeful parents looking to adopt to be asked about their feelings towards adopting a disabled child.And, if so, the extent of the disability they’d feel comfortable accommodating.
Hopeful parents considering surrogacy face similar ethical hurdles about whether to go with an altruistic or compensated surrogacy. There is also the question of protecting not just the rights of the parents, but the rights of the surrogate mother herself, who is making the most significant sacrifice of all by agreeing to take on her role. Some of these ethical issues can be addressed by going to countries with well-established laws about parental/surrogate mother rights to ensure that everyone knows exactly how the rules work.
Gestational Surrogacy Concerns
Another issue that is specific to gestational surrogacy and In Vitro Fertilization, or IVF, is the selection of eggs. This process takes a donor egg and donor sperm and fertilizes them in a lab. Then the egg is implanted in a surrogate mother. However, some families have hereditary congenital disorders, such as cerebral palsy, which can be passed down to offspring.
Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD) is a technique where multiple eggs are fertilized. They are then analyzed to see if any have expressed a hereditary disease. The ones that do are discarded, while the ones that are “clear” are moved to a final round of selection for implantation. This brushes on the ethics of eugenics and deliberately picking more desirable traits while rejecting undesirable ones.
In the end, every hopeful family must solve these ethical issues on their own. It requires looking at your value system, that of your faith if you have one, and striking an acceptable balance to move forward and commit to a decision you feel comfortable with.