Bioethical Considerations of Today's Surrogacy Practices - St. Bernard's

Bioethical Considerations of Today's Surrogacy Practices

Jul 2, 2024

Katie Breckenridge

Several years ago, I found myself with a constant, nagging urge to fight against IVF and surrogacy – practices about which the pro-life movement seemed to be doing very little. I started working for the children’s rights group, Them Before Us, writing on reproductive technologies for various outlets, and even had the opportunity to write about end-of-life issues in Scotland. My work in bioethics then led me to expanding my credentials through St. Bernard’s certificate program and a second Master’s degree in Bioethics through the University of Mary.

Seeing a recent article from a “Men Having Babies Conference” where same-sex couples try to find women to carry children for them, I felt prompted to compare two different acts: surrogacy and prostitution.

The act of surrogate motherhood involves a woman carrying and delivering a child to an infertile couple, thereby interjecting a third person into the intimate aspect of child-bearing that is reserved for husband and wife. Surrogacy separates pregnancy from motherhood and suggests that pregnancy need not be considered a mark of motherhood, that there is no meaning to the prenatal bond which occurs between mother and child, and that pregnancy is nothing more than incubation.

Surrogacy treats human conception as a business transaction, allowing a woman to use one of the most intimate realities of her body – her miraculous ability to be a co-creator with God in making new human beings – for our own personal gain. The act denies the uniqueness of everyone’s interiority and personhood and treats a woman as something to be used. An exchange of a human being takes place, which is based on a predetermined arrangement before conception followed by a surrogacy contract.

The act of using women’s bodies as objects for one's personal gain is often referred to as prostitution, and commodifying human beings, such as infants, could be equivalent to human trafficking. During the 1890s to 1920s in the United States, children were sold into prostitution by impoverished parents, immigrants were drawn into the lifestyle, and prostitutes had become seen as “feebleminded,” resulting in their sterilization and segregation in state-run facilities. While legal prostitution is now largely prohibited, it has taken another form in the act of surrogacy, as using women for their bodies continues to allow certain classes of women to be grouped into “less than” categories. Surrogacy often targets poor and low-income women, as is evidenced not only in women in the United States who pursue surrogacy for money, but also by the exploitation of women in other countries such as Ukraine, where couples go to pursue the process because it’s cheaper and they can find women who are financially struggling.‌

Human trafficking movements, which also view certain persons as “less than,” were eliminated through acts such as the "Emancipation Proclamation" in 1863, the “International Convention for the Suppression of the White Slave Trade” in 1910, and the “International Convention for the Suppression of Traffic in Women and Children" in 1921. While, of course, prostitution and human trafficking are still occurring, surrogacy is the only legal version of these acts that continues today.

Prostitution and surrogacy both have romanticized ideas surrounding them, such as them being empowering acts that women choose that are mutually beneficial for both parties involved. Prostitution is depicted as a fun and liberating profession, and surrogacy is depicted as the ultimate altruistic act that makes it possible for infertile couples to finally gain their long-desired child, with no regard to the exploitation and emotional trauma of both industries.

While surrogates are fed the idea that they are simply “babysitters” and the children they carry “belong to someone else,” through the process of microchimerism, these women are forever connected to the children they carry. Dr. Kristin M. Collier, Assistant Professor and Associate Program Director of the internal medicine residency training program at the University of Michigan, states that:

“... the inter-connectedness between the prenatal child and her mother is intimate and more profound than previously believed. We know that genetic material from the prenatal child crosses through the placenta and can be found in her mother’s circulation… Human beings carry remnants of other humans in their bodies… The end result of these processes is that many of us are interconnected at the cellular level. What is truly amazing is that these cells are not inert. It would be one thing to have the cells from another person in your body and for them to do nothing. But it is another thing entirely that these cells become integrated into maternal tissue and are active and working in ways that we are just beginning to understand... Think about mothers who have lost both prenatal and postnatal children, and how they have longed for their children still to be with them in some way, and now we see that they are in fact.”

Collier continues, “... The existence of the placenta and fetomaternal microchimerism provide glimpses into the cooperation and interconnectedness that exist at the cellular level between mother and child in the relational biology of mankind, which God has magnificently designed. The mother-child symbiosis serves as a beautiful example of God’s relational creation in a way that speaks to interconnectedness, mystery, and beauty.”

Given this, it is difficult to say that gestational surrogates have no connection to the children that they carry other than simply being “babysitters.” These children belong biologically to the woman carrying them just as much as they do their genetic parents. They forever become a part of their mothers and can even become part of siblings born subsequently after surrogate children. This is yet another example of why the prenatal connection between mother and child is so intimate and shouldn’t be severed. The creation of human life which, in every conception, creates a new person who is a unified creation of flesh and God-breathed spirit, is a great mystery that shouldn’t be treated flippantly.

Katie Breckenridge holds a Master's degree in Mental Health and Wellness with an emphasis in family dynamics, a graduate certificate in trauma-informed practice, and is working toward St. Bernard's Graduate Certificate in Catholic Bioethics, as well as a second Master's degree in Bioethics. She published her first book, Silent Sorrows: Let’s Talk about Abortion, Reproductive Technologies, and Adoption in 2024 and has written for Salvo Magazine, Angelus News, Society of St. Sebastian, as well as The Federalist on beginning and end-of-life issues.