June 27, 2022

The contradictions of commercial surrogacy

Why are the mothers left holding the baby if the parents walk?

Commercial surrogacy contains inherent contradictions about the status of the mother, according to an article in the Journal of Medical Ethics. Jennifer Parks and Timothy Murphy, two American bioethicists, focus on times when the person or persons who commissioned the pregnancy abandon the child. This has happened in a number of widely-publicised cases overseas and in the US. Most of the time, the mother is left with responsibility for the baby, even if it is disabled.

They argue that “Treating commercial surrogates as presumptively responsible for children abandoned by commissioning parents, … rest[s] on highly gendered assumptions about women and altruism.” Furthermore, “current commercial surrogacy practices face an internal conflict: dematernalising commercial surrogates while sometimes holding in reserve that maternal status as a safety net for unwanted children.” 

There are no tidy solutions, they acknowledge. However, they suggest that preimplantation genetic diagnosis should be included in the contract and that the commissioning parent or parents discuss the possibility of birth defects with the mother. Another strategy would be to assess commissioning parents to see if they would make good parents. “While these strategies may not altogether prevent the abandonment of children born via commercial surrogacy,” they conclude, “they would at least make abandonment less likely, which would work not only to protect the resulting children’s welfare but also that of the surrogates who might otherwise face expectations of care for surrogacy orphans.” 

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