Pope Francis Calls for Surrogacy Ban, Affirms Human Dignity
Have you heard about the 62-year-old Australian woman who recently petitioned a court to be able to retrieve sperm from the body of her recently-deceased husband, in order to conceive a child, which will then be carried to birth by a surrogate?
No, this is not from some dystopian sci-fi novel.
An Australian court recently granted the request, potentially paving the way for the grandmother-aged woman to bring into the world a child who is the son of a man who has been dead since mid-December.
Then, there is the recent spate of cases of older women giving birth to their own grandchildren. In such cases, the grandmother is implanted with an embryo created in a lab through in vitro fertilization from either the sperm or ovum of her own child, which has been combined with the sperm or ovum of her child’s partner.
Or take the case of TV actress, Ana Obregon, who last year adopted a child born to a surrogate. The twist? The child was in fact conceived using the sperm of Obregon’s son, who had died of cancer three years previously. Thus, the child is genetically her own grandchild, conceived years after the death of the child’s father.
In light of the proliferation of mind-bending, dreadful headlines like this, and the overall explosion in the practice of surrogacy in general, it is hardly surprising that our Holy Father recently made remarks in which he called for a total ban on the practice.
“The path to peace calls for respect for life, for every human life, starting with the life of the unborn child in the mother’s womb, which cannot be suppressed or turned into an object of trafficking,” Pope Francis stated in his recent “state of the world” speech.
The pope called attention to the “deplorable” practice of surrogacy, which, he said, “represents a grave violation of the dignity of the woman and the child, based on the exploitation of situations of the mother’s material needs.”
Pope Francis continued,
A child is always a gift and never the basis of a commercial contract. Consequently, I express my hope for an effort by the international community to prohibit this practice universally. At every moment of its existence, human life must be preserved and defended; yet I note with regret, especially in the West, the continued spread of a culture of death, which in the name of a false compassion discards children, the elderly and the sick.
In Vitro Fertilization Sparked Surrogacy Craze
The question of surrogacy entered the public consciousness in the late 1970s, for two reasons. Firstly, lawyers began drafting legal contracts to cover cases in which a surrogate carries a preborn child for another couple after being inseminated with the man’s sperm. However, the biggest change, ushering in a bioethical revolution, was the development of in vitro fertilization (IVF).
The obvious downside to surrogacy involving insemination of the surrogate is that the process requires the surrogate’s own ovum, meaning that the conceived child is genetically related to the surrogate, and not the woman for whom she is serving as a surrogate.
In IVF, however, an egg is harvested from the body of the woman, fertilized in a lab with the semen of her male partner, creating a human embryo which is genetically related to both of them, and which is then implanted in the womb of the surrogate. In this way a surrogate could, for the first time ever, give birth to a child that was in no way genetically related to her, but rather to the couple who had contracted with her to carry their child.
The combination of the legalization of surrogacy in many jurisdictions, and the new technology of IVF, resulted in a massive explosion in the practice. Arguably, the most dire outcome has been the proliferation of commercial surrogacy, which has been legalized in some jurisdictions, including in some American states.
Surrogacy Industry Exploits Poor Women
Critics of commercial surrogacy have long warned that the practice would inevitably result in an industry that preys heavily upon poor and otherwise disadvantaged women. Given the inherent risks, discomforts, and other challenges involved in pregnancy, as well as the introduction of economic laws of supply and demand into human procreation, it would inevitably be the case that poor, desperate women, often in less-developed nations, would be the ones who would be best position to offer the best possible price. This would result in a nightmare scenario of wealthy individuals paying poor women to use their bodies as incubators for the children they have purchased.
The existence of precisely such an industry captured headlines in the early days of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. As Russian tanks barreled towards Ukrainian cities, poor Ukrainian surrogates, who were carrying or had recently given birth to the children of wealthy Westerners, scrambled to find ways to escape the fighting without violating their contracts, or to keep the children alive long enough to deliver them to their Western purchasers.
“Social Surrogacy” Commercializes Procreation
This systematic, legalized, industrialized wrenching of the sacred process of human procreation out of its natural place in the loving embrace of spouses, has produced a litany of horrors, even when the practice involves volunteer surrogates. As mentioned above, this includes bereaved spouses seeking to harvest eggs or sperm from the dead to produce post-mortem children, or grandmothers giving birth to their own grandchildren.
Then, there is huge growth of the practice of homosexual couples “purchasing” children from overseas surrogates. Or consider the chilling growth in the number of wealthy women who simply choose to pay another woman to carry their child, not because they are infertile, but because they do not wish to ruin their perfect figure, or are uninterested in taking time off work, or undergoing any of the ordinary challenges of child-bearing. Numerous celebrities are now turning towards surrogacy as the normative way of having a child. The current euphemism to refer to this grotesque practice is “social surrogacy.”
As one article in The Guardian explains: some women “want to have babies that are biologically their own, but don’t want to carry them. There is no medical reason for them to use a surrogate; they just choose not to be pregnant, so they conceive babies through IVF and then hire another woman to gestate and give birth to their baby. It is the ultimate in outsourced labour.”
Unsurprisingly, this mix of wealth, prestige, and power, and reproduction, has led towards the commercialization of procreation in more ways than one. Not only do wealthy couples expect to be able to purchase a child (baby) at will, and to outsource all the uncomfortable parts to their hired surrogate, but they desire the “product” to be as perfect as possible. Hence, the growth of gender selection, genetic screening, and the marketing of genetically desirable sperm or egg donors. If, after all, couples are going to spend six figures for a child, it had better not be disabled, or the “wrong” sex, or with a sub-par IQ.
Pope Francis’ Remarks Face Liberal Backlash
Pope Francis’ recent remarks on surrogacy—which amounted to a few sentences in a 45-minute speech—have been met with an outpouring of outrage.
Liberal media outlets have almost universally condemned the remarks, drawing attention to emotionally-fraught cases in which infertile couples have been able to welcome a genetically-related child using the services of a surrogate. The suggestion, of course, is that somehow the Church is opposed to the happiness of these couples, or (even worse) to the existence of their child.
Of course, this is absolute nonsense. From the beginning, it was obvious to anybody with eyes to see, that commercializing human procreation would lead to unjust and abusive outcomes. The Catholic Church’s teaching on the practice has been nothing if not clear and consistent, warning of precisely everything that we now see occurring, out of a profound concern for the good of women, children, and marriage.
In the 1980s the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) briefly addressed the question of surrogacy in their bioethics document Donum vitae. The document notes that a couple’s desire to have a child after fighting with infertility constitutes “understandable motivations.” However, it adds, “but subjectively good intentions do not render heterologous artificial fertilization conformable to the objective and inalienable properties of marriage or respectful of the rights of the child and of the spouses.”
Surrogacy, states the CDF,
violates the rights of the child; it deprives him of his filial relationship with his parental origins and can hinder the maturing of his personal identity. Furthermore, it offends the common vocation of the spouses who are called to fatherhood and motherhood: it objectively deprives conjugal fruitfulness of its unity and integrity; it brings about and manifests a rupture between genetic parenthood, gestational parenthood and responsibility for upbringing. Such damage to the personal relationships within the family has repercussions on civil society: what threatens the unity and stability of the family is a source of dissension, disorder and injustice in the whole of social life.
The Church Clearly Condemns Surrogacy
In response to the furor surrounding Pope Francis’ remarks, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has strongly reiterated and underlined the Church’s clear teaching on this issue. Bishop Robert Barron of Winona-Rochester, Chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth, noted in a statement that, “no matter how well-intentioned, surrogacy always does grave injustice to the child, any discarded embryos (who are our fellow human beings), the commodified birth mother, and the loving union of the spouses.”
“Surrogacy,” he noted, “represents the commodification and instrumentalization of a woman’s body, treating her as a ‘carrier’ rather than a human person. And just as troubling is the fact that the child is reduced to terms of buying and selling as an object of human trafficking,” rendering the child to the status of a product.
The Catholic Church affirms the obligation to defend the dignity of the human person, who bears the image and likeness of God, a being that is always to be reverenced as sacred and never to be used as means to an end. She asserts that children are not products, and the marital act is not a manufacturing process. New human life is to be engendered only in and through the marital act, an act proper and unique to spouses, the act made possible only by marriage itself. A child has the right to be engendered (begotten) through the marital act, carried in the womb of his or her mother, and raised by his or her parents. Surrogacy denies the child’s rights in favor of “the right to have a child by any means necessary,” changing the intention from begetting a child to “obtaining,” “getting,” “making” and “having” a child.
The legalization, proliferation, and social acceptance of surrogacy is one of the great scandals of our age. To normalize the practice of surrogacy, with its widespread exploitation of women, evaluation of the value of human life according to eugenic criteria, and cavalier attitude towards human life in its early stage, is to tread the same eugenic path that produced so many of the horrors of the 20th century.
The Holy Father is 100% correct: it is time to ban surrogacy. Full stop.
As president of Human Life International, Fr. Boquet is a leading expert on the international pro-life and family movement, having journeyed to nearly 90 countries on pro-life missions over the last decade. Father Boquet works with pro-life and family leaders in 116 counties that partner with HLI to proclaim and advance the Gospel of Life. Read his full bio here.