There are some things money shouldn’t buy, like babies
by Nick Suk (ARPA intern)
Children are gifts from God, not products to procure or commodities to purchase. Procreation should take place within marriage, not through the deliberate fracturing of natural relationships. This biblical foundation is violated when a third party becomes part of the procreation process, either as a genetic parent (gamete seller or donor) or as a surrogate mother.
These are live issues in Canada today. MP Anthony Housefather has tabled Bill C-404 to decriminalize commercial surrogacy and the sale of gametes. The intent of the bill is to increase the number of people in Canada who supply gametes or become surrogates by permitting them to get paid for it. Mr. Housefather intends to make things easier for those who cannot have children on their own. His bill is not only based on a faulty religious foundation that idolizes individual choice, but it also assumes there are no dangers in commercializing surrogacy or commodifying gametes. The evidence suggests there are.
Employment or exploitation?
Some argue that Canada’s prohibition on commercial surrogacy creates a victimless crime. We criminalize such activity, however, in part because those who rent their wombs risk their own health and lives for monetary gain. The health risks these women take economically benefit “big fertility,” which makes billions globally each year on the commodification of wombs, babies and gametes. Certainly, other work involves risks as well, but surrogacy is different in kind. With other work, people are compensated for the “fruit of their labour”, for what is made or accomplished by their labour, but not for the use of their bodies by others. With surrogacy, a woman is either being paid for the use of her body, or for the child she bears, or both.
Pregnancy brings health risks. Ordinarily, women do not choose to take on the risks for financial gain, but rather receive from God the gift of a child as the fruit of sexual union. Surrogacy and in-vitro fertilization treatments bring additional dangers. Several embryos are often transferred into the surrogates with the hope that at least one implants in the uterus. This increases the chances of a multiples pregnancy, which can lead to abortions or premature labor and delivery. The surrogate contracts away the use of her body to “intending parents”, granting them a certain degree of control. Surrogates might be required to refrain from certain foods or activities, or even to abort an “extra” fetus or a fetus with a detectable disability.
Commercial surrogacy destinations, such as India and Thailand, have banned or proposed to ban commercial surrogacy because of evident exploitation. In India, women are frequently “pimped” into becoming surrogate mothers for foreign buyers. If Canada legalized commercial surrogacy, we would be in the minority of nations that permit paying women (or paying agencies which pay women) for the use of their wombs. France, Germany, and Italy have banned both altruistic and commercial surrogacy because of its inherent dangers.
History and foundations of Canada’s law
Our current law, the Assisted Human Reproduction Act, is based on the recommendations from the “Royal Commission on New Reproductive Technologies,” or the “Baird Commission,” which consisted of five women, all experts in relevant fields. The Commission’s recommendations were released at a time in which assisted reproduction technology was more novel, but their recommendations were based on timeless principles – for example, the importance of protecting vulnerable people against powerful commercial interests. They also wanted to ensure that the “profit motive is not the deciding factor behind the provision of reproductive technologies.” Once commercialized, some women will feel pressure to take significant health risks as a surrogate, mainly for economic reasons.
In the documentary “Breeders: A Subclass of Women,” produced by Jennifer Lahl, surrogates describe their loss of dignity and how they felt like tools for the intended parents. Their bodies became “hotels” for intended parents’ babies.
Commercial surrogacy also commodifies children. Unlike in adoption, “intended parents” pay a for-profit fertility clinic to match them with a surrogate who is willing to release her parental rights in exchange for money. Jessica Kern, a self-termed “product” of a surrogacy arrangement says her parents often carried a “we paid for you” mentality whenever she demonstrated dissatisfaction about not knowing her birth mother. Jessica’s human dignity was diminished. To Jessica’s parents, her birth mother was a service provider whom their daughter didn’t need to know.
Price-tags on children
Surrogacy also commonly involves the use of donor gametes, which brings further challenges to the children born through surrogacy. Anonymousus.org shares the stories of people who struggle with the knowledge that they have been intentionally deprived of any relationship with their genetic parents. One donor conceived person said, “It was crushing to learn that my dad got paid to participate in my conception.” Once gametes become commodified, more donor-conceived children will grow up not knowing their genetic parents and feeling like commodities.
Housefather has stated that it will be up to the provinces to regulate the surrogacy and gamete market once the Federal government decriminalizes it. With respect, this is reckless. There is no guarantee that the provinces will put in place regulations, thus risking the possibility that parts of Canada will have an unregulated market for reproductive technology. Unregulated surrogacy could mean poor background checks of intending parents or gamete donors and make it far easier for an abusive or unstable person to become a “parent”, essentially by purchasing a child.
Canadians are not entitled to have children by any practicable means. We should not allow greater risks to children and birth mothers by decriminalizing commercial surrogacy. It is one thing if a woman wishes to engage in such risks for altruistic reasons, but if impoverished women feel compelled to do so for economic reasons, then we are making a supposed reproductive right trump the dignity and best interests of Canadian women and children.