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Sebastian's Point

Sebastian's Point is a weekly column written by one of our members regarding timely events or analysis of relevant ideas, which impact the Culture of Life. All regular members are invited to submit a column for publication at soss.submissions@gmail.com. Columns should be between 800 to 1300 words and comply with the high standards expected in academic writing, including proper citations of authority or assertions referred to in your column. Please see, Submission Requirements for more details.

On The So-Called Right to Children

Joe Kral, M.A.

President

Society of St.  Sebastian  |  18 January 2024

 

At the beginning of the New Year, Pope Francis made headlines around the globe during his annual “State of the World” address.[i] While many are aware of the Church’s teaching on abortion, many were not as aware of the Church’s view on surrogacy. With more celebrities announcing the birth of their children via surrogacy each year there is little wonder that more people have accepted surrogacy as not only a solution to a couple’s infertility but as a moral practice in particular. No doubt, the words of the pontiff certainly gnawed at the ethical consciences of many practitioners when they were spoken.

 

 

In his address, Pope Francis stated something very profound, “A child is always a gift and never the basis of a commercial contract.”[ii] What exactly does this mean in the context of the pro-life movement and public policy? To begin to answer this important question, it is important to quickly understand Church teaching. Sadly, when many think of surrogacy they merely think of what they perceive to be the end result – a living human baby. Human babies are supposed to be a good thing are they not? While every human life is good, since it is made in the Imago Dei, the practice of making a child can be immoral. Church teaching certainly is clear that conjugal love is meant to take place within marriage.[iii] This sexual fidelity between husband and wife is to be open to the transmission of life.[iv] So, when reproduction becomes disassociated with the conjugal act it becomes immoral since the sexual act is removed from the procreative act. In essence, the husband and wife are no longer totally giving themselves to the other.[v]

 

 

It is at this point since the procreative act is removed from this act of total giving that the commercialization of both the unborn child and the surrogate mother begins. The In-vitro Fertilization (IVF) industry is in the business of making embryonic children. These children are then subjected to screening tests and if not used are then cryopreserved, used for research, or destroyed. As Katie Breckenridge, of Them Before Us, is quoted as saying, “Only 7% of lab-created children are actually born alive.”[vi] The couple pays money to the IVF lab, which then wants to give them the best child(ren) made. The others are merely discarded. For the IVF clinic, the child is merely a product, not a gift.

 

 

Concerning the surrogate mother, the use of her body is under contract. To carry and nurture (physically and emotionally) the child(ren) for the entire gestational period. It is certainly scientifically understood that the child forms a bond with his mother (whether it be his biological or surrogate mother) while in utero. This child gets to know his or her mother’s voice, the voices of other family members, etc. However, the surrogate is under contract to give up the child upon birth. The implication is she must mentally force herself not to bond with the child. This, of course, is highly unnatural and immoral since the child has developed a bond with the surrogate mother. In essence, the surrogate mother merely becomes an incubator for the child. What may be even more troubling for some is the fact that many surrogates are not becoming surrogates for altruistic reasons. Many of these women are people in financial need. We do not see these women who become surrogates in many cases. They tend to stay unknown especially when it comes to publicity photos of stars with their newly born child. The surrogate performed her contractual obligations and is pushed aside.

 

 

When Pope Francis discusses surrogacy as a commercial contract, the aforementioned reasons are why. Both the surrogate mother and the unborn child are merely objects. The born child is supposed to be the perfect child (and if it is found out during pregnancy that the child is not perfect, then oftentimes the surrogate is coerced to abort) for the paying parents. The surrogate becomes a means to an end insofar as she becomes a gestational incubator for the parents who are paying to use her body. This transaction is not an act of love (the selfless willingness for the good of the other) but something that is merely financially transactional. The child created merely becomes a financial transaction as well. The IVF clinic is paid to create the best child for the couple.

 

 

Of course, many pro-IVF/surrogacy advocates try to argue that the parents have a right to a child. But again, as Pope Francis points out this child is a gift. The Catechism gives a little more insight into this reality, “A child is not something owed to one, but is a gift. The "supreme gift of marriage" is a human person. A child may not be considered a piece of property, an idea to which an alleged "right to a child" would lead. In this area, only the child possesses genuine rights: the right "to be the fruit of the specific act of the conjugal love of his parents," and "the right to be respected as a person from the moment of his conception.”[vii]

 

 

Fundamentally, what advocates for surrogacy and IVF fail to understand is what a right is. Rights are not mere desires. While we understand people may desire a child, they do not have a right to a child. Rights derive from the duties of others and another person does not owe a child to another person. Furthermore, their argument for a so-called “right to a child” implies several things regarding one’s duty such as: if a child cannot be provided, then one would have the duty to provide gamete cells (sperm and egg cells) to another and that if a child cannot be carried by the intended parents the duty to provide a womb in which one can be carried. This false notion of a “right to a child” thwarts the very essence of the marital act as a loving act. It is no longer a true gift of self (the willingness to be open to the transmission of life), but rather something else entirely. The child then merely becomes the whim of the intended parent(s). The creation of a child is supposed to mirror the creative power of God. The parents, both made in the Imago Dei, give themselves fully to the other in an act of love (sexual union), so that the child comes into existence out of this specific act of love.

 

 

When children become commodities, they become expendable. This is why so few IVF embryonic children make it to birth. Pope Francis concludes his remarks on surrogacy by stating, “At every moment of its existence, human life must be preserved and defended; yet I note with regret, especially in the West, the continued spread of a culture of death, which in the name of a false compassion discards children, the elderly and the sick.”[viii] The desire to help infertile persons by using the means of IVF and surrogacy is a false compassion. Why? Because it thwarts the idea of children as a gift. As such, our society needs to seriously look into pro-life legislation that 1) prohibits the practice of surrogacy and 2) protects existing (and those created in the future) IVF embryonic children so they are not treated as something to be dispensed. We must develop a better apologetic to better defend our positions. Every time a celebrity uses and publicizes their use of surrogates, they further entrench the culture into the acceptance of IVF and surrogacy. This is part of the culture of death. Real people just become a means to an end. They become tools for others’ wants. They are no longer really seen as human beings made in the Imago Dei. It is time to pass laws to ensure the proper respect for them.

 

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[i] Pope Francis, ADDRESS OF HIS HOLINESS POPE FRANCIS TO MEMBERS OF THE DIPLOMATIC CORPS ACCREDITED TO THE HOLY SEE, January 8, 2024. Retrieved on January 17, 2024, https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2024/january/documents/20240108-corpo-diplomatico.html.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] See Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1643. And No. 2360.

[iv] See Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2363.

[v] See Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2377.

[vi] Breckenridge, Katie, “IVF and Abortion Trigger Bans: The Reality That Not All Prenatal Life is Protected,” Sebastian’s Point, December 11, 2022. Retrieved on January 19, 2024, https://www.societyofstsebastian.org/ivf-abortion-bans-breckenridge.

[vii] See Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2378.

[viii] Pope Francis, ADDRESS OF HIS HOLINESS POPE FRANCIS TO MEMBERS OF THE DIPLOMATIC CORPS ACCREDITED TO THE HOLY SEE, January 8, 2024. Retrieved on January 17, 2024, https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2024/january/documents/20240108-corpo-diplomatico.html.

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