June 29, 2009
Surrogacy might be good for adults - but not children
Sat, Jun 27, 2009
No legislation applies to surrogate motherhood in Ireland – the only
regulation is by Medical Council guidelines, writes BREDA O'BRIEN .
SARAH JESSICA Parker, star of Sex and the City , is in the news
because she and her husband commissioned a surrogate mother who gave
birth this week to twins. Surrogacy is not exactly a modern
phenomenon. It is even found in the Book of Genesis, when another
Sarah, frustrated by her inability to have children, instructed her
husband Abraham to have sex with her slave girl, Hagar. A son, Ishmael
However, the account in Genesis is more of a cautionary tale than a
ringing endorsement of complicated conceptions. When biblical Sarah
miraculously gave birth to Isaac, she demanded that Hagar and Ishmael
be cast out into the desert. Happily, Hagar and her son survived.
Things have become much more complex since biblical times.
Unsurprisingly, the Abrahamic method of conception fails to find
favour with wives. Modern-day surrogacy relies heavily on IVF.
There has been a lot of speculation as to whether Sarah Jessica Parker
and Matthew Broderick used a donor egg, or their own embryos from
previous IVF cycles. If the twins did not result from their own
embryos, it is extremely unlikely that they used the surrogate’s own
eggs. The infamous Baby M case in the 1980s concerned a surrogate who
had used her own eggs and who refused to hand over her baby to the
commissioning parents. After two years, the birth mother lost custody,
but retained visitation rights. Since then, American couples have been
very wary of using a surrogate’s own eggs.
If a couple uses a donor egg, or donor egg and donor sperm, the child
has an even more complex set of parents. Children conceived by
anonymous donation often suffer genetic bewilderment, deliberately cut
off from family history, and from other siblings and family members.
There are now numerous websites and organisations, mostly set up by
children conceived through anonymous donation, campaigning against the
practice on the grounds that it is deeply unjust to children.
When we see how important it was for survivors of industrial schools
to locate siblings, or the anger of Maori children taken away and
raised by white people, it should give us pause about the wisdom of
ignoring the importance of genetic kinship.
Due to a court case taken by a woman called Joanna Rose in the 1990s,
herself conceived by donor insemination, it is now illegal to donate
sperm anonymously in Britain, and all children conceived since then
are entitled to basic information. However, anonymous donation is
legal in many US states. Surrogacy and gamete donation have become
thriving industries there.
Officially, surrogates are only to receive expenses, but in reality,
it can cost $20,000 to $100,000 (€14,200-€71,000) by the time you pay
for eggs, sperm, surrogate, agency, and medical and legal costs. Like
it or not, there is an aspect of “buying a baby”.
As Prof Margaret Little of Georgetown University has said: “You are
selling use of the body, and historically, when that has happened, it
has not been good for women.”
In her book Everything Conceivable , Lisa Mundy quotes Gail Taylor,
who manages Growing Generations, a Los Angeles agency facilitating gay
men in finding surrogates and egg donors. Egg donors, Taylor says,
should be selected on looks, brains, youth, health and psychological
soundness. Surrogates should be selected on how well they gestate
babies and how well they work with others.
Perhaps that is why Europeans and Americans are flocking to India,
where use of a woman’s womb comes cheap.
When the Commission on Assisted Human Reproduction (CAHR) was
appointed by the Government to make recommendations on the Irish
situation, only one member objected to surrogacy, stating that the
risks of exploitation and commodification outweighed any possible
There is absolutely no Irish legislation in this area, and the only
regulation is by Medical Council guidelines. Most European countries
(including Ireland) and US states declare that surrogacy contracts are
unenforceable, particularly since a woman post-partum is considered to
be exceptionally vulnerable. Indeed, a 2008 Newsweek magazine feature
reported that some surrogates are left desolate by having to give up
the child. It is also extremely confusing for the surrogate’s own
children, if she has any. Astonishingly, CAHR recommended legalising
surrogacy, and automatically recognising the commissioning couple as
Only a heartless person could fail to understand the longing for a
child. No doubt many women who carry a child for someone else do so
for the highest motives. However, being conceived in this way can be
utterly confusing for children, although the full implications may not
hit them until they become adults and have children of their own.
Carrying a child for nine months is just about the greatest act of
intimacy possible between human beings. Children conceived through
surrogacy often wonder how someone could bear to part with a child.
Surrogacy, especially involving donation of eggs and sperm, is designed
to create a child to fill an adult need for children.
Recently, an Irish radio show ran an appeal for a woman to act as a
surrogate for an Irish couple. (The item was sparked by seeing the
couple’s advertisement for a surrogate in this newspaper.) Although
well-meaning, the radio show risked landing all involved in an
emotional and legal minefield. Although it has not been contested, it
is most likely that an Irish court would consider the birth mother as
the legal mother of the child. The only way to become the legal
parents would be through adoption – an arduous process.
Any child, no matter what the means of conception, should be
cherished. One can only wish the Parker-Broderick twins long life and
happiness. And indeed, hope that the late Michael Jackson’s children,
one of whom was born through a surrogate and the others almost
certainly through donor sperm, will find stability and peace. However,
if and when Irish legislators tackle assisted human reproduction, if
they are genuinely concerned with children’s rights, the only option
will be to ban surrogacy and anonymous donation.
© 2009 The Irish Times