Where does the right to parenthood start and end?
By Michael Chagala of Conceptual Options
London, UK – 4 November 2019
Human rights regarding what a woman can do with her body is one of the most hotly contested issues of the last 100 years. Women are frequently torn between the right to govern their own body and what society deems acceptable. But where should society define boundaries? Where does society draw the line between protecting victims versus imposing subjective beliefs?
With the rate of infertility growing, especially in the developed world, and more LGBT+ couples now seeking parenthood, people are increasingly turning to surrogacy to have children. Surrogacy is an arrangement whereby a woman becomes pregnant with the intention of giving the child away to an intended parent or parents. For many intended parents, surrogacy is more desirable than adoption as they can select the biological parents of the child – whether it be themselves, friend or family, or selected from a sperm or egg donor database. The most common form of surrogacy is gestational, in which the surrogate mother is impregnated with a fertilized embryo and not biologically related to the child. Unfortunately, this creates a minefield of challenges both religious and legal for individuals, couples and society to step through.
Where is Surrogacy Legal?
Surrogacy rights vary from county to county, and sometimes from one jurisdiction to another within borders. In the United States, where individual states regulate their own policy, surrogacy law ranges from fully legal to criminal. California leading the pack with the most progressive surrogacy laws in the county. Europe and Asia having a patchwork of laws as well, ranging from France where there is an outright ban on surrogacy, to the Czech Republic where it is legal in all forms. Other countries have legalized surrogacy but with stipulations such as it must be altruistic, meaning the surrogate mother can only be compensated for reasonable expenses. This is the case in the UK.
Paid vs Altruistic Surrogacy
There is no doubt that surrogacy has been exploited for financial gain at the expense of the mother. The issue of surrogate mothers living in deplorable conditions in so called ‘womb for rent’ situations gave rise in India to laws banning foreign intended parents. Nobody would deny protections need to be put in place to protect vulnerable women from exploitation, but this blanket ban also shuts down legitimate surrogacy where both the surrogate mother and intended parents could benefit. Some countries have taken the approach of banning commercial surrogacy, but once again, should a woman’s right to make her own decision be influenced by a minority of bad actors?
Surrogacy and Religion
Believing in human rights necessarily includes defending a person’s right to their religious and spiritual beliefs. However, there must be a line drawn between exercising one’s beliefs and impeding on someone else’s. Many religions have strict beliefs that bringing a child into this world should be left to their creator, not the hand of man. Nobody would argue they are welcome to pursue this belief on a personal level but attempting to influence law is seen as a violation of church vs state. But where is the middle ground? The anti-surrogacy religious community sees living in a land where surrogacy is legal as a violation of their rights, and the opposite is true of those who are pro-surrogacy and live in countries where it is banned or restricted. There is no easy answer.
LGBT+ Rights and Surrogacy
How do you take an already contentious topic and make it more complex? Mix in LGBT+ rights. Because same-sex couples cannot have children without assistance, surrogacy is central to parenting equality for LGBT+ people. A person’s drive to become a parent has nothing to do with sexual orientation – the LGBT+ community is entitled to these feelings the same as anyone else. However, the concept of LGBT+ parenting via surrogacy is an amplification of two issues on which many people are vehemently opposed. To the religious community, gay surrogacy likely feels like the culmination of worst-case-scenarios. To those advocating for LGBT+ surrogacy rights, it is a giant step forward. The pro-surrogacy camp cites studies showing children raised in same-sex households fair as well by all measures as those raised in a straight home, but statistics cannot dismiss the beliefs the religious community is entitled to.
Is Surrogacy a Human Right?
Human rights are defined as that which is believed to belong justifiably to every person. Having children is unarguably a human right. But should that right be extended to those biologically unable to do so? It depends who you ask. Today’s world is an ever-increasing blend of cultures and beliefs. When deciding where to stand on any contentious issue, we must take into consideration the rights of the individual, and the effects of those rights on society as a whole. Although we may never reconcile the world’s beliefs around surrogacy, we should strive to apply our decision equally across all segments of the population. Whether you believe in surrogacy rights or not, we must take into consideration that there are people in this world entitled by human rights to have different beliefs to yours. Instead of focusing on how surrogacy and the laws surrounding it impacts you, take a moment to consider the effect it is having on someone else. Understanding both sides of the issue is perhaps the only way we have to come to any reasonable conclusion. This means accepting that while surrogacy may not be right for you, it is the answer for others and brings them great happiness, with a child that is planned and loved.