Surrogacy is the process of conceiving a child by in vitro fertilization (IVF) or artificial insemination, then implanting the embryo in the womb of a woman (called the surrogate) who is not the intended mother of the child. Once the child is born, the surrogate gives the child to the intended parents.
Altruistic surrogacy is a surrogacy arrangement in which a woman carries the child as an act of generosity and does not receive financial compensation apart from medical expenses and such. As in any surrogacy arrangement, the woman carries a child conceived by IVF or artificial insemination and then gives the child to the intended parents after the birth.
Here are 5 things you need to know about altruistic surrogacy.
1. How is the child conceived?
There are three ways that the child is conceived when the route of surrogacy is pursued, each of which involves either the use of IVF or artificial insemination:
- Partial or Genetic Surrogacy: The prospective father donates his sperm, which is then used to artificially fertilize the egg of the surrogate mother. This means the intended adoptive mother is not biologically related to the child while the father is.
- Total surrogacy: The sperm is chosen from a donor bank to fertilize the egg of the surrogate mother. Neither intended adoptive parent is biologically related to the child.
- Gestational surrogacy: The prospective parents both contribute their respective sperm and egg. Then, after IVF, the embryo is implanted in the womb of the surrogate, meaning the child is in fact the child of the intended parents but has a different gestational mother. This is the most common form of surrogacy in the U.S.
2. How common are surrogacy arrangements?
- Number of births: There were about 5000 births from gestational surrogacy in the United States between 2004 and 2008. This is about 0.02% of births in that time span. Gestational surrogacy is the most common form of surrogacy practiced in the United States and the total number of surrogacy arrangements is therefore not much more than this.
- Growing popularity: It is not easy to find reliable statistics about surrogacy, but it is clear that it is growing in popularity very rapidly. The rate of growth has been estimated at 89% in four years, and more and more agencies are becoming involved with this increasingly popular method of having children.
3. Why the Culture Wants to Promote Surrogacy
Surrogacy arrangements are often made when a couple cannot conceive naturally, or the intended mother is considered unable to carry a pregnancy without significant risk.
- Homosexuality: A common reason for pursuing a surrogacy contract is that the intended parents are a homosexual couple. As an example, 31% of the prospective parents that used the Center for Surrogate Parenting have been gay. Promotion of adoption by non-traditional, same-sex couples is gravely immoral. In areas of the United States Catholic agencies have had to shut their doors rather than succumb to the legal pressures of allowing gay adoption. At present, the Trump administration affirms the rights of faith-based adoptions to be based on religious beliefs, but that has not prevented individual states and cities from trying to end the foster care provided by Catholic charities.
- Medical conditions: Another common reason is that the prospective mother has a medical condition that makes pregnancy dangerous (such as diabetes or hypertension) or impossible (such as a hysterectomy or other sterilizing procedure). However, there are many moral issues that make artificial insemination and fertilization areas of serious concern to the Church. Adoption is the usual option the Church would encourage for infertile couples who wish to have a child.
4. What is legally different between altruistic and commercial surrogacy?
In short: commercial surrogacy is more legally complicated than altruistic surrogacy because in commercial surrogacy, the child has no biological link to the intended parents.
Commercial surrogacy, which is illegal in most countries, is sometimes referred to as “wombs for rent.” Companies that engage in this business almost always treat the employed surrogates as commodities and simply income devices. They often employ poor desperate women and give them unfair compensation, charging high fees for being the necessary middle-man. For these reasons, this business has been outlawed in most countries.
Even India, which was formerly the world capital of commercial surrogacy, has made it almost always illegal and only allows it in the case of heterosexual Indian couples married for over five years, and even then, they must have a doctor’s certificate of infertility, and women can only be a surrogate once.
The similarity between commercial surrogacy and child trafficking is striking and cannot be ignored; they are essentially the same action, especially in the majority of cases, where the surrogate is the biological mother of the child. Both involve a contract to essentially sell the child after birth, though in the case of surrogacy this contract is signed before conception.
The different methods of conception used by surrogates each pose different legal issues.Altruistic surrogacy raises fewer legal objections since it is closer to adoption, which has a longer history of legal regulation to prevent child abuse. Gestational surrogacy has the fewest of these issues because the baby is the true biological child of the intended parents. Other arrangements involve more legal complications because this is not the case, but because the contract is not a sale of services (as in the case of commercial surrogacy), altruistic surrogacy is considered to be much like adoption except that the child is yet to be conceived.
5. Is altruistic surrogacy morally acceptable?
This 23-second video has the answer:
Is altruistic surrogacy morally acceptable? No. All forms of it require the use of IVF or artificial insemination. IVF is morally unacceptable, which means that any process which necessarily involves it is also morally unacceptable. The practice of artificial insemination is also an unacceptable and unnatural perversion of human procreation.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains the basis of why such reproductive technologies are immoral: they dissociate the sexual act from the procreative act. The act which brings the child into existence is no longer an act by which two persons give themselves to one another, but one that “entrusts the life and identity of the embryo into the power of doctors and biologists and establishes the domination of technology over the origin and destiny of the human person. Such a relationship of domination is in itself contrary to the dignity and equality that must be common to parents and children.” (CCC 2377)
Therefore, all forms of surrogacy are morally illicit.
Although altruistic surrogacy is a way otherwise infertile couples may become biological parents, who see it as a way of becoming parents without involvement with often-abusive agencies that use surrogacy as any other expendable commodity, the ethics behind surrogacy of all kinds is morally problematic.
Even though the surrogate performs her service as an act of generosity, the necessary procedures in fulfilling surrogacy contracts are immoral. While altruistic surrogacy is regulated to protect all parties involved, and even though altruistic surrogacy produces fewer abusive and immoral situations than commercial surrogacy, it is nonetheless a tragic abuse of the natural procreative process and a growing concern to all as it gains popularity.
For more on the ethics of surrogacy, visit “7 Surrogacy Pros and Cons.”