The news came soon after it was reported that Elton John and David Furnish became fathers to a baby boy on Christmas day. As ABC News noted Jan. 4, they join a long list of celebrities who have used surrogate mothers to have children. The lineup includes couples such as Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick, actor Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka, and soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo.
The case of Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban drew the attention of social commentators because of a statement issued by the couple in which they thanked the "gestational carrier." Melinda Tankard Reist, writing in the national newspaper The Australian, criticized the term for bringing together both the objectification of women’s bodies and the commercialization of childbirth.
In her Jan. 19 article, she argued that such impersonal language takes away the humanity of the woman who bore the child, and it also denies the intense bond between a mother and her child that develops during pregnancy.
Miranda Devine, writing in the Sydney-based Daily Telegraph newspaper on Jan. 19, was also highly critical of the term used: "Even if she was paid, as most U.S. surrogates are, what she did was an act of enormous personal generosity, and ought not be diminished by weasel words that seek to dehumanize the most intimate human relationship."
Devine explained that she felt uncomfortable with the current fad for surrogate babies, as if they were some kind of fashion accessory, or in the case of homosexual couples, a political statement.
Michelle Higgins, in a commentary published Jan. 21 in the Sydney Morning Herald, sympathized with the pain of infertile women, but objected to terms such as breeder or gestational carrier. Our choice of language to describe surrogacy does indeed matter, she argued, and has an impact on the participants.
From England, in a Jan. 21 article published in the Guardian newspaper, Yvonne Roberts argued that motherhood is not just another branch of the retail industry. Putting up wombs for rent is simply dehumanizing, she stated.
A woman may be said to choose to be a surrogate of her own free will, but this presupposes we live in a society with no serious differences in authority and income, she noted. There are "some corners of the soul into which even those with bottomless wallets should not go," Roberts added.
Other commentators, however, came out in support of surrogacy. Letitia Rowlands, in the Jan. 22 edition of the Daily Telegraph, argued that it is a happy ending for couples who would otherwise not be able to have children.
In Australia, surrogates can only receive payment for their medical costs, but Rowlands favored commercialized surrogacy so that couples desperate for children will have more opportunities to do so.
Two further commentary articles, published the next day in the Sunday edition of the Daily Telegraph, also advocated surrogacy. Claire Harvey called it "an extraordinary gift of love." Surrogate mothers offer to share their gifts of good health and fertility to benefit those not so lucky, she said. "It’s a deliberate gift of compassion, patience and love from one woman to another."
Tracey Spicer recounted her own difficulties in conceiving and said there are thousands of women who suffer from the problem of infertility, but acknowledged that in some cases, such as when women from countries such as India are hired to give birth for Western couples, there is injustice.
Spicer’s reference to India hits a sensitive spot regarding surrogate mothers. Last Dec. 10, the Wall Street Journal published a lengthy article about the new industry of producing babies using women from low-income countries.
PlanetHospital, for example, uses women from countries such as Bulgaria and gets them to give birth in Greece, where lax laws make it easier to operate. Or they have what they term the "India bundle" — a package deal combining egg donors and embryo transfers into multiple surrogate mothers in India.
For a bit extra, PlanetHospital will split eggs from the same donor to fertilize with different sperm, or allow couples to choose the sex of their child. Since 2007, the organization has facilitated about 459 births.
Rights and remuneration
The increasing use of surrogacy has, however, sparked off a series of court battles. In England, where paying surrogates over and above what would be needed to cover medical costs is supposedly not allowed, a judge recently challenged how the law has been interpreted.
In a High Court decision, Justice Hedley said the law on payments for surrogacy was unclear, and allowed a British couple to keep a newborn child even though they had given what was more than what the law terms "reasonable expenses" to the American surrogate, the London Telegraph reported Dec. 8. The justice interpreted the law as applying to only the "clearest case" of surrogacy for profit.
Meanwhile, in the United States, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that the non-genetic partner of a baby born through surrogacy could be given legal parenthood rights, ABC News reported Jan. 20.
Anthony and Shawn Raftopol were legally married in Massachusetts in 2008, and their twin boys were born through a donor egg and a surrogate mother. They live in Holland and were worried that when Shawn, who is not the biological father, travels with the kids he could be accused of trafficking them across international borders.
The court ruled over the objections of Connecticut authorities and declared there was no need to go through an adoption process and that Shawn could be listed on the birth certificates.
Just a short time later, the Family Court in Melbourne, Australia, reached a similar conclusion, the Herald Sun newspaper reported Jan. 22.
A homosexual couple who had paid an Indian mother to give birth to twin girls sought full legal status for the non-genetic father.
"As a matter of law, the word ‘parent’ tends to suggest some biological connection, but … biology does not really matter; it is all about parental responsibility," Justice Paul Cronin decided.
Sometimes surrogates don’t want to hand over the babies once they are born, leading to legal tussles. One that was resolved recently on the side of the birth mother is the case in Britain where an unnamed surrogate was allowed to keep the baby. Justice Baker explained in his ruling that the child should remain with the biological mother as it was in the child’s best interests, the Telegraph newspaper reported Jan. 23.
In the 2008 document "Dignitatus Personae" on bioethical questions, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith reaffirmed the Church’s opposition to the use of surrogate mothers.
It confirmed what "Donum Vitae" had stated some 20 years earlier. In that document the Church explained that any birth technique involving people other than the married couple is unacceptable as it is "contrary to the unity of marriage and to the dignity of the procreation of the human person."
It also stated that it is a denial of "the child’s right to be conceived and brought into the world in marriage and from marriage."
The nature of the bond between a husband and a wife means that they have "the exclusive right to become father and mother solely through each other," it added. There’s no denying the very pain of a couple that are unable to have children, but while surrogacy might resolve one problem it creates many others.