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What's So Wrong with Surrogacy?
Ana Brennan, J.D. 18 January 2019
The debate surrounding surrogacy usually revolves around bioethical and human rights issues. We rarely take time to reflect on societal attitudes and their ramifications. This new year alone there has been at least three celebrity fluff stories celebrating the alleged unquestioned good of surrogacy. First, Kim Kardashian is “expecting her fourth child” via surrogate. It is true that she suffers from pregnancy-related life-threatening conditions, but surrogates have a risk three-times higher for these same life-threatening conditions. Second, Ricky Martin and his partner are the proud parents of their third child born via surrogate. From this story, one would be left with the impression that these two men reproduced on their own without the help of a woman. Finally, there is Andy Cohen of Bravo and New Year’s Eve fame who along with his partner are expecting their first child via surrogate. They have received nothing but heaps of praise and congratulations for paying a woman to have a child.
All of these stories illustrate how the announcement of a surrogate and normal pregnancy are essentially accepted as the same. People see the final result, a baby, which is a good thing. No one is arguing otherwise. But does the end justify the means? Only the purest of motives are proffered to justify pursuing surrogacy, or so it may seem. Examining the root justification for surrogacy can help us determine whether, as a society, we should accept this practice wholeheartedly, or caution against its use.
When it comes to surrogacy, there always seems to be a lot of talk about the “right to be a parent” superseding all other rights. Unfortunately, for those who advocate surrogacy, the “right” to be a parent is not a thing. No one has a right to a child, another human being. No one has the right to demand the use of a woman’s body. People are not property that others have a right to. Even parents of non-surrogate children only have a right to parent their children, not to be a parent. Parental rights only exist to the extent those rights uphold a duty owed to children, a duty of care. If parents fail in their duty and harm their children, the state will intervene and remove the children if needed to protect them. The state will terminate parental rights if parents fail in their duty. Parents do not own their children. Children have intrinsic rights based on the fact they are human beings.
Focusing on this alleged right to be a parent tends to create a very “me” centered debate, which obfuscates the other concerns involved; concerns that should alarm pro-lifers. Behind every life surrogacy creates, lies the destruction of innumerable more. Due to surrogacy and IVF success rates, multiple embryos are created, with the full knowledge that most will die in utero or in a petri dish. Embryos, regardless of where they are growing, deserve legal protection.
The surrogacy laws in the United States are a mess. Some states like California allow for pretty much unfettered surrogacy, while Arizona prohibits it by statute. Other states that did not have laws on the books have had surrogacy foisted upon them by courts. While still, other states have no statues either way. When pursuing legal protection it is important to understand the distinction of prohibiting verses regulating surrogacy. States that do not have any laws should focus on laws that prohibit surrogacy. Laws to regulate surrogacy are a step toward full legalization and acceptance. In these cases, regulation would be a step backward. States where surrogacy is already permitted by law, regulation could be used as a step forward toward prohibition.
Of course, pro-lifers should be concerned about the creation and destruction of embryos, but surrogacy raises other concerns that should worry pro-lifers and demand our attention. As the stories of the recent celebrity pregnancies illustrate, the women who are giving birth are considered secondary, if considered at all. The Kardashian article says Kim is expecting her fourth child via surrogate. I guess that’s technically correct in that she’s expecting to purchase her fourth child from another woman. Surrogacy (let alone the mother) is not even mentioned in the Ricky Martin article.
The distortion and degradation of the pregnant mother and her importance is a pro-life issue because it is an affront to human dignity. Additionally, human dignity is further eroded by the commodification of children. No matter what mental gymnastics one engages in, surrogacy is about the buying and selling of another human being.
Like other life issues, pursuing protective legislation can have the dual effect of actually passing legislation that protects lives and educates the public about the reality of these issues. Once people start to become aware of what surrogacy entails, they might not be so quick to accept it.
 Chloe Melas, "Kim Kardashian West is expecting baby No. 4 via surrogate," CNN January 2, 2019,
 Natalie Stone, "Ricky Martin and Husband Jwan Yosef Welcome Daughter Lucia," People, December 31, 2018,
 Erin Jensen, "Andy Cohen to be a father via 'a wonderful' surrogate! See his emotional announcement," USA TODAY Dec. 21, 2018,
Ana Brennan, J.D., is Vice-President of the Society of St. Sebastian and Senior Editor of the Journal of Bioethics in Law in Culture Quarterly.