Kristin Rudolph (@Kristin_Rudolph)
Surrogacy is not an issue that comes to the average Christian’s mind when discussing the dignity and sanctity of human life. But Russell Moore, the new president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention believes Christians must be educated on the ethical implications of surrogacy as artificial reproductive technologies become an increasingly common answer to infertility.
In a podcast on June 5th, Moore interviewed Jennifer Lahl, founder and president of the Center for Bioethics and Culture about a bill (SB 162) in Louisiana that would legalize surrogacy contracts that now awaits governor Bobby Jindal’s signature. Lahl explained: “It has passed with such overwhelming support from the House and the Senate … I would ask [the governor] to think long and hard about the children.” We often hear about “the plight of the couple who desperately wants a child,” but not the children involved. This is no small matter, Lahl said, and we need to “think deeply about changing such a dramatic way in which families are made and children are conceived and this isn’t something we just do lightly.”
Lahl, who previously worked as a pediatric nurse recalled how “hard we worked to bond mothers and babies together in the womb and to keep babies in their mothers womb for so long because they have been fearfully and wonderfully made … and these technologies intentionally tell a woman ‘do not bond with this child.’” Gestational surrogacy (as opposed to traditional surrogacy in which the surrogate is the biological mother) is presented and perceived by many women as as an opportunity to help an infertile couple have a family. Moore described how “at first glance that seems to be a very compassionate thing who could not be for this? … You have children who are being born, children welcomed into families.”
But “we haven’t done our homework … in really helping people think Christianly” about infertility,” Lahl lamented. One problem, she explained, is the commodification of life inherent in gestational surrogacy. On this aspect, Lahl has found unlikely allies in pro-abortion feminists who also oppose the commercial aspect of treating women as mere incubators. Surrogacy is targeted at lower income, often vulnerable women with compensation ranging around twenty to thirty thousand dollars, Lahl said. But the health risks are high, as “it takes a lot of maneuvering and a lot of drugs and a lot of procedures to prepare a gestational surrogate mother’s womb in order to [artificially] conceive an embryo.”
Further, “there’s not been a lot of study done or tracking on the long term effects of these drugs on the children that are produced from them and also the surrogates,” Lahl said. There are, of course, significant issues with creating multiple embryos and discarding or freezing the “surplus,” in addition to the mistreatment of women. Rather than helping a couple in need, gestational surrogacy commodifies the life of both mother and child. “If you read these contracts, it’s a transaction. The surrogate is not paid if she does not produce a baby at the end,” Lahl explained.
The United States is second only to India in the surrogacy market. India is a popular destination for Western couples to find a relatively inexpensive gestational surrogate, but it can be a hazardous, even deathly transaction for desperately poor Indian women. Lahl described how “women in India are literally housed in dormitories [and] they have to leave their communities they leave their villages, they leave their families it’s taboo, it’s considered selling your motherhood.”
Although the current bill in Louisiana limits gestational surrogacy contracts to married heterosexual couples, the surrogacy and broader artificial reproductive technology market is a key element of creating “alternative” family structures. Homosexual male couples, and even some single men use surrogates to have children.
Moore explained that “our churches, although we are pro-life and we speak about the life issue as it relates to abortion … aren’t ready sometimes to deal with where the life issue is happening at the technological level.” He shared how when he and his wife were facing infertility, they had no one to talk with about the ethical implications of the “fixes” doctors prescribed. “When you’re vulnerable and when you’re in a desperate situation, you’re sometimes willing to negotiate away your ethics,” he said, encouraging pastors and other church leaders to address reproductive technology in a way that emphasizes the dignity of human life.