The Associated Press released a story yesterday highlighting the dark side of surrogacy. A Thai woman who served as a surrogate for an Australian couple is still caring for the 7-month-old boy to whom she gave birth after the biological parents did not take custody of him because he was born with Down syndrome and a congenital heart condition.
For the uninitiated in the world of assisted reproductive technologies, surrogacy is the practice of using a third-party gestational carrier in order to have a baby. In simpler terms, a couple signs a contract with a woman to carry and give birth to their baby for a fee. At birth, the baby is handed over to the parents who initiated the contract. The details can vary on who the biological parents are and what (if any) role the surrogate could have in the life of the child. But the essence of the practice is that a woman gives birth to a child who is not hers biologically.
The surrogate mother, Pattaramon Chanbua, was promised approximately $9,300 to be a surrogate. During her seventh month of pregnancy, doctors and the surrogacy agency informed her that one of the twins she was carrying had Down syndrome. They suggested she have an abortion. Pattaramon refused to have an abortion and is now caring from the boy after the biological parents took his twin sister back to Australia.
What makes this situation more complicated is the fact that paying a surrogate is illegal in Australia, and it is also illegal to pay a surrogate living in another country in some states of Australia. By contrast, Thailand has few regulations regarding surrogacy and is a popular destination for those seeking an international surrogacy contract.
What should we think about this situation and surrogacy in general?
First, we need to recognize the callous nature of actions taken by the biological parents. They have apparently abandoned their child in another country due to medical hardships that he faces. They do not recognize the value of all life. Genesis 1:26–27 clearly states that we have been created in the image of God. Even though sin has brought disease and pain into the world, we are still image bearers, even those who face serious medical hardships.
Second, we need to recognize that technology is not ethically neutral. Just because someone can employ a surrogate to give birth to a child does not mean that it should happen. Surrogacy is often described as an industry because it represents a service to be bought and sold. There are moral implications that come with participating in this industry. For the Christian, the moral problems with surrogacy raise major red flags about the value of human life, using other humans as a means to an end, and potentially allowing another person to make life-and-death choices for your child with little or no input.
Third, we need to understand that surrogacy amounts to the commodification of people. Buying and selling the womb of a woman for the sake of having a child reduces both the surrogate and the child to a commodity. The surrogate’s womb has been purchased to provide a service. The child is the “product” of that service. Money is at the center of the surrogacy agreement. Certainly there are times when surrogates may provide their services free of charge, but it is still a commodity to be negotiated for. Little thought is usually given to the price the surrogate pays to give up a child immediately after giving birth. The child may not be her biological offspring, but she has devoted the last nine months of her life to caring for the child in her womb.
We need to think twice before promoting this reproductive technology. The costs are high for all involved, and the children are the ones who potentially suffer the most.
Rod McGuirk, “Australia May Intervene in Surrogate Baby Case,” Associated Press, August 4, 2014.