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Surrogate motherhood creates an ethical minefield

May 13th, 2014

A gay couple’s government-funded IVF twins have created a storm of controversy in Canada.

by Margaret Somerville

The announcement by Quebec radio host Joel Legendre that, later this summer, he and his male partner, Junior Bombardier, would become the parents of twin baby girls has received much media attention. It’s reported that the babies were conceived using “an ovum bought from an American [gamete] bank” (if only one ovum was used, they are identical twins, if two, they are sibling twins) and are being carried by a Quebec surrogate mother, who became pregnant though in vitro fertilization (IVF) paid for by the Quebec government healthcare fund (RAMQ). What ethical issues does this scenario raise?

How should we view surrogate motherhood?

Quebec’s Civil Code provides that surrogate motherhood contracts are null and void ab initio, that is, cannot be enforced. That reflects the view that surrogacy is contrary to public policy and, therefore, not to be condoned or facilitated. Paid surrogacy degrades and exploits women, especially under-privileged ones who become a “breeder class”, commodifies children, and denigrates human reproduction.

In 2011 the European Parliament adopted a resolution condemning surrogacy as a violation of women’s human rights. As Americans, Kathleen Sloan of the National Organization for Women and Jennifer Lahl, president of the Center for Bioethics & Culture write: “Human rights violations against women and children are being reframed as “human rights” to a child. … The women required to breed these children are non-entities, merely “incubators,” “hosts,” “ovens” or “gestational carriers;” it is very difficult to imagine anything more objectifying.”

Should surrogate mothers be paid for their gestational services?

Parliament answers this in the Assisted Human Reproduction Act 2004, which prohibits both payment of surrogate mothers (except for reimbursement of reasonable expenses) and any person offering to pay a woman to be a surrogate mother, advertising such payment offers, acting as an intermediary or accepting consideration for arranging for the services of a surrogate mother. These are crimes punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a C$500,000 fine.

Paid surrogacy, in effect, amounts to manufacturing babies for adults who want them, turning the babies into commercially viable products that are at the centre of a worldwide “fertility industry” that generates billions of dollars annually.

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