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Human life becomes commodity with surrogacy, say global ban advocates

ROME (CNS) — A broad cultural shift is needed to recognize surrogacy is not a “right” but a violation of human dignity and of the rights of women and children, several experts said during an international conference in Rome advocating a universal ban on surrogacy.

Surrogacy, in which a woman agrees to become pregnant and deliver a child on behalf of another individual or couple, is “basically the practice of buying babies. It’s turning women into commodities” and represents the “commodification of human life,” Kajsa Ekis Ekman, a Swedish journalist and author, told reporters April 5.

“Just like the West has outsourced production of goods to other countries, we are now outsourcing reproduction,” she said. “The surrogate is not the person manufacturing a mobile phone to be sold. Being sold here is human life itself.”

Ekman and others spoke at a news conference on the sidelines of an April 5-6 conference sponsored by supporters of the Casablanca Declaration, an appeal drawn up by lawyers, doctors and psychologists asking nations to take measures to combat surrogacy and to commit to an international convention abolishing surrogacy worldwide.

Jennifer Lahl poses for a photograph at an international conference in Rome April 5, 2024, dedicated to the universal abolition of surrogacy. She is a pediatric critical care nurse and founder of the California-based Center for Bioethics and Culture Network, which seeks to educate and inform the public and leaders about ethical issues in healthcare, biomedical research and biotechnological advancement. (CNS photo/Carol Glatz)

Olivia Maurel, the spokesperson of the Casablanca Declaration, was born to a surrogate mother via “traditional” surrogacy through an agency in Louisville, Kentucky. In “traditional” surrogacy, a surrogate mother is inseminated with an intended father’s spermatozoa; with IVF or “gestational” surrogacy, which is the most common form of surrogacy today, the surrogate mother gestates one or more embryos that the intended parents have created with their own or with donor gametes.

“They abused the situation of a woman that needed money to feed her children and pay her bills,” she said of her surrogate mother in her talk April 5, calling the surrogacy industry “greedy” and noting it is set to grow from an estimated value of $14 billion in 2022 to $129 billion by 2032.

Often the stories being told about surrogacy, she told reporters, are from the point of view of the intended parents who are happy to receive a child.

She compared surrogacy to when slavery was legal, saying, “I’m sure there were beautiful stories of well-fed, well-dressed slaves. How does that help? Does it make slavery more ethical?”

“We don’t regulate a bad practice, we abolish it,” she said.

In her speech, she said, “I do not blame commissioning parents, like I do not blame my parents for having used surrogacy, as they only use something that is offered to them on a silver platter. I blame the countries, the governments, that let surrogacy be legal, that do not take actions to stop surrogacy in their countries.”

Maurel links her years of depression, fears of abandonment and other emotional, psychological and behavioral issues to lifelong doubts and instinctual feelings of being disconnected, she said. She discovered she was a child of a surrogate mother after taking a DNA test in December 2021.

“We children born through surrogacy have a huge loyalty conflict. We’ve been bought, wanted, desired, manufactured, so according to many we don’t have the right to suffer to be unhappy,” she said in her speech. “We should shut up, and thank surrogacy for our existence, for being alive. Well, no, I don’t agree. We have the right to say that for many of us, it has screwed us up,” as “surrogacy inflicts a real wound on the child.”

Ekman, who has been studying and researching surrogacy since 2007, said the women who enter into surrogacy contracts to give up the children they carry often suffer, too.

People who believe women can just go through a pregnancy and be separated from the child as if it were “nothing, must think that we women are robots. We women are not robots. Even though women in surrogacy are often poor, they also have feelings,” she said.

She said she has never met a surrogate who did not miss her child “because this is a bond that you can’t just cut like that.”

She told Catholic News Service that what surprised her most during her years of research was “how many Christian mothers become surrogates. A lot of them, in the U.S., especially.”

Many of them had given up their own biological child for adoption “when they were really young and they felt so guilty about it,” she said. With gestational surrogacy, “they almost felt purified through” giving birth without having sex and through “suffering” through the painful hormone treatments “for a good cause.”

“They felt brave and good for doing this whereas they would still be disappointed afterward because they thought the intended parents would keep them in the loop, but then they were just dispatched, like we don’t need you anymore and they never got photos of their kids or they never were invited to see how their kids were doing,” she told CNS.

Ekman said she was also shocked to discover there could be “no checks at all” by some agencies on single men opting for surrogacy while there would be more regulations regarding adoption. “Is this becoming a new haven for child molesters?” she asked.

Jennifer Lahl, a pediatric critical care nurse and founder of the Center for Bioethics and Culture Network in California, told CNS she got involved after being constantly contacted by women who had “sad and bad stories” about being surrogates.

What affected her, she said, was seeing “just how bad” the medical establishment is acting. “I do not like that doctors are putting women in harm’s way” by letting them take the higher risks that come with IVF, with carrying multiple embryos and with gestating an embryo that has no genetic relation to the carrier.

“We can’t sell organs in the United States and about every 13 to 15 minutes somebody dies waiting for an organ transplant. We haven’t changed our laws to buy and sell organs because we know that when you buy and sell it’s the rich that can buy and it’s the poor that sell. It’s the same case in surrogacy. It’s the wealthy that can hire a surrogate, pay a surrogate, and it’s the lower income women” who are incentivized to become surrogates, she said.

Lahl said they can shift public opinion with educational campaigns, like was done with successful anti-smoking efforts, by revealing the risks, harm and suffering associated with surrogacy since “most people are unaware that a surrogate pregnancy is a much higher risk pregnancy.”

Also, she added, “shouldn’t we change systems so that women don’t have to sell their body or rent their body out to afford to live?”

The Catholic Church opposes surrogacy, saying a child is a gift and “techniques that entail the dissociation of husband and wife, by the intrusion of a person other than the couple — donation of sperm or ovum, surrogate uterus — are gravely immoral.”

Pope Francis told diplomats in January that he finds surrogacy “deplorable” and would like to see it banned worldwide. It is “a grave violation of the dignity of the woman and the child, based on the exploitation of situations of the mother’s material needs.”

Maurel told reporters she wrote to Pope Francis about her advocacy efforts in December and was “very clear” with him that she was “a feminist and an atheist,” saying the movement to abolish surrogacy transcended religious and political beliefs.

She said the pope, as the head of the Holy See, is an important ally and she and her husband sat down with him for 30 minutes in a private audience April 4. “It went very well. He is a very, very kind person, very open” and very knowledgeable about the subject.

“The pope said that he supported us and what we were doing and he also said our work was important” and “legitimate,” calling surrogacy a “market of women and children,” she said.

Maurel said she thinks the Vatican document on human dignity, scheduled for release April 8 and expected to address surrogacy and other issues, can have a big influence on the world stage.

“It only needs one state, the Vatican, for example, to put out this information for other countries to gather around and start talking about the subject,” she told reporters.

Copyright © 2024 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops