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Wombs For Hire: The Psychological Impact Of Surrogacy

“An increasingly extended practice that, in order to obtain social acceptance, often masquerades under the guise of compassion, but true compassion cannot turn its back on the truth.”

A group of ethicists and professionals has come out strongly against [1] the idea that surrogate motherhood is in any way a sign of progress or advancement for society, noting that the laws of several European countries already expressly prohibit surrogacy.

Their document outlines five ways in which the practice of surrogacy, while undoubtedly well intended by some who are involved, nevertheless has unpredictable and potentially grave consequences for many.  The document reviews in detail the myriad of problems which arise, including: the merchandising of children, the abuse of woman, too many parents laying claim to a child (or alternatively, sadly, cases where a child is born with medical complications and is unwanted by any), and the connections in some countries of surrogate motherhood with prostitution and human trafficking.  These nefarious consequences are in some ways predictable, given the desperate desire of some individuals, incapable of bearing their own child, to have a child to call their own.  In many ways, the ethical issues [2] here parallel those of infertility more generally and the resulting “market” for assisting the childless.  Babies are big business in some circles, especially the more convenient, “guaranteed” and predictable the acquisition process may appear to be.

The Neglected Psychological Outcomes

The most well-intentioned seekers of surrogacy will no doubt eschew the more reprehensible of the above practices.  Care will be taken to ensure that the woman employed to carry the child is well provided for during and after the pregnancy, the legal status of the child and all the parties involved is clearly established, and even possibly accepting that the child born may have unanticipated imperfections (though this latter point does not appear to be the norm).   And yet, an inescapable truth casts a shadow over the whole endeavor—we are manufacturing for export the life of a child—and the implications of this truth on the psychology of the child, the woman who carries the child, and the genetic and commissioning men/fathers and women/mothers are largely unknown, though there are some logical concerns to be considered.

First, are concerns for the psychology of the child and the woman/mother who bears him.  Medical research on attachment is clear about the bonding that occurs between baby and mother even while in utero.  While the breaking of this bond is also faced where adoption is chosen for the child’s well-being in a naturally-occurring pregnancy, the emotional equation is bound to be more complicated when the number of parties, and the distance between them both geographically and emotionally, increases.  In addition, when a child becomes aware of his surrogate origin, doubts about his identity and parceled beginning may complicate his development and sense of security and wholeness.  Furthermore, artificial reproductive methods are also known to bring about medical complications [1] both for the mothers and the children.

Second, are concerns for the commissioning parents, who face months of anticipation shrouded by angst [1] as to whether the surrogate mother or genetic parents might claim custody of the child.  Beyond that, to the extent they have “designed” the child through choices of sperm and egg donors, the potential for disappointment is real, potentially interfering with the emotional attachment needed to attentively raise the child, which, of course, has great ramifications for the child as well.

True Compassion

The plight of childlessness is painful to nearly all who face it.  And yet, despite the allure of what science and money might permit, the remedy for this pain is found in traditional adoption, with its own difficulties and heartaches, or in patient, humble and prayerful forbearance in the face of such a great loss.  It is not found in the manufacture and marketing of children.

As previously discussed [3] in these posts, very little is easy when dealing with such a powerful and poignant desire as that of becoming a parent; yet the primary consideration of any parent must be what is best for the baby he or she desires.  To place anything before that is to betray the foundation of that role so desperately being sought.  The fundamental right to know one’s origin [4] and history is paramount, and the benefit of being conceived in a loving, committed relationship—without laboratories, transfers between bodies, or exchange of funds—is the least we as a society might do to provide an optimal start for a new life.  Anything short of that deprives the child of the environment best suited, and wholly designed, for his safety and development, an environment which can be neither bought nor sold.