LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Proposed changes to Britain’s surrogacy laws would lead to the “further demeaning of pregnancy,” according to the leading Catholic bioethics center in the country.
Under current UK law, commercial surrogacy – that is, the hiring of a woman to bear a child for another person or couple – is illegal, although “altruistic surrogacy” is not.
The law also mandates that the surrogate mother is the legal mother of the child at birth, and the intended parents – whether they are the genetic parents or not — have to obtain a court order to end the surrogate’s parental rights and transfer them to the intended parents, a process that cannot be done until at least six weeks after birth.
On June 6, the Law Commission of England and Wales and the Scottish Law Commission announced their intention to change surrogacy laws in the UK, claiming the current laws are outdated.
The law commissions are proposing to allow intended parents to become legal parents when the child is born, “subject to the surrogate retaining a right to object for a short period after the birth.”
Other proposals include:
– The creation of a surrogacy regulator to regulate surrogacy organisations which will oversee surrogacy agreements within the new pathway.
– In the new pathway, the removal of the requirement of a genetic link between the intended parents and the child, where medically necessary.
– The creation of a national register to allow those born of surrogacy arrangements to access information about their origins.
The consultation will also look into the issue of “surrogacy payments,” which could lead to commercial surrogacy in the country.
Sir Nicholas Green, Chair of the Law Commission said that since surrogacy is “more and more” common, the proposals will “create a system that works for the surrogates, the parents and, most importantly, the child.”
The law commissions consultation on the issue ends on Oct. 11.
The Anscombe Bioethics Centre, an Oxford-based Catholic institution, said it “is troubling that the consultation is not concerned about whether surrogacy should be legally permitted or encouraged at all, but starts from the premise that surrogacy is ‘an accepted form of building a family’.”
In a briefing paper on the legal consultation, the center noted: “Children should be conceived and gestated in a way that reflects the child’s right to the love and care of parents wholly committed both to each other and to the child they have conceived.”
“Surrogacy is always an injustice to the child because it fragments parenthood in a pre-planned way. It intentionally deprives the child of at least one biological parent: the woman who provided the child with intimate, maternal bodily care for nine months (the surrogate may or may not be the genetic mother also),” the paper said.
Dr. Helen Watt, Senior Research Fellow at the Anscombe Centre, said the proposed changes to the law would make commercial surrogacy legal in the UK, making it an outlier in most of Europe.
“In some parts of the world including France, Germany and Italy all surrogacy is illegal, while in others, at least commercial surrogacy is illegal. This sharply contrasts with the situation in the Ukraine (which is outside the EU) and in some U.S. states, where surrogacy contracts can be enforced, and the birth mother made to give up the child,” she told Crux.
“The proposed changes to the law would permit the commercialization and further demeaning of pregnancy, and would make it more difficult for the surrogate, including an international surrogate, to keep her baby. This harms everyone concerned and further erodes attitudes to pregnancy in society at large,” Watt said.
The Anscombe Centre noted that the proposed changes to Britain’s surrogacy law would also streamline international surrogacy, permit the advertising of surrogacy services, and facilitate surrogacy where neither intended parent would be genetically related to the child (“double donation”).
“In relation to the surrogate, it is important to stress that during pregnancy she has already been offering genuinely maternal care, and therefore has rights and responsibilities as a birth mother that the law should reflect. Pregnancy is not babysitting; it makes one a mother in an archetypal way. Surrogacy objectifies this process and the human beings involved,” the Anscombe briefing says.
Watt told Crux there is no moral right to have a child, “or even to try to have a child in ways that are morally demeaning.”
“But there is normally a right to keep and raise – or help raise – a child to whom one has given birth. All rights in this area must be consistent with the child’s rights, even if some of the child’s rights may already have been violated in conception and gestation of a kind that splits parenthood,” she explained.
“The commissioning couple may eventually acquire moral rights to go on caring for the child, even if neither is a biological parent, but the moral rights of the birth mother are significant and must be respected. A baby should not be taken from a birth mother who wants to keep him or her and is able to do so. The fragmentation of parenthood before birth is no reason to fragment it further by depriving a child of the biological parent who has supported the child prenatally for nine months – even if a genetic parent is also a parent and should often be involved in the child’s upbringing too,” Watt said.
She told Crux the most troubling thing about the consultation is its views on motherhood.
“Pregnancy and childbirth signify motherhood: This is archetypal in human societies,” Watt said.
She added that it is not more appropriate to pay a woman to gestate a baby than it is to pay her for sexual services.
“Surrogacy treats the maternal bond between a woman and her baby, to whom she offers basic but unique bodily support, as if it were a much lesser bond,” Watt said.
She said parents are for children, not children for parents, adding that is it is better to have no children, or to adopt children already born, than to use surrogacy to demean pregnancy.
“Parenthood is a vocation which it is natural to desire, and to which one may be called in some form – but it should not be wrested for oneself by wrongful and dehumanizing means,” Watt told Crux.
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