Moral Implications of Surrogacy

By (embryologist) and (babygest staff).
Last Update: 11/07/2019

Surrogacy is a complex process in Assisted Reproduction, especially in relation to the moral and bioethical consequences that surround it.

In this article we reflect on the implications and possible ethical problems arising from surrogacy.

Ethical aspects

Among the definitions of the concept of morality, we find:

Belonging to or relating to the actions of persons, from the point of view of their actions in relation to good or evil and in function of their individual and, above all, collective lives.

Doctrine of human action that aims to regulate individual and collective behaviour in relation to good and evil and the duties they imply.

In conjunction, we can say that morality is that faculty that allows us to distinguish good from evil.

In today's society, free and full of a wide variety of different opinions and thoughts, distinguishing the acceptable from the unacceptable is complicated, as different positions on a given subject can be equally respectable and ethically correct.

New reproductive technologies raise ethical conflicts that must be resolved with respect for the security and rights of all participants, as well as ensuring the general interest of society and compliance with existing laws.

In this sense, surrogacy is one of the assisted reproduction techniques that generates the greatest ethical dilemma, since it involves not only the future parents and the baby, but also a third essential participant: the surrogate mother, also known as gestational carrier.

Human rights and surrogacy

Surrogacy poses many ethical-moral problems, which means that it has both defenders and detractors, each with their own equally reasonable arguments.

Protecting human rights is the basic idea of moral reasoning. In surrogacy there would be several rights that would come into conflict:

  • Right to human freedom
  • Right to equality
  • Right to procreate and form a family
  • Right to know one’s genetic origin

Many of the questions posed by surrogacy do not have a single answer.

For example, regarding the right to human freedom: Where are the limits? Does the surrogate have the right to make any use of her body or, on the contrary, are there uses that are not permitted because they turn the human being into an object? Does surrogacy diminish the human dignity of women?

On the other hand, regarding the right to knowledge of biological origin: if the parents must reveal the biological origin to the child, when and how should they do so? Should the child know the donor and the surrogate? Does the child have the right to do so?

The U.S. Constitution does not explicitly mention a right to reproduce, although many believe that this is inherent in the recognition of freedom, human dignity and the free development of personality.

Nevertheless, the Supreme Court has recognized it as a personal right that is deemed "fundamental" and which extends to procreation, contraception, family relationships and child rearing.

Moreover, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights announces in its article 16:

Men and women from the age of marriage have the right, without any restriction on grounds of race, nationality or religion, to marry and found a family, and shall enjoy equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and in the event of dissolution of marriage.

So, is there a right to reproduce?

All these questions with no apparent single answer must be resolved on the basis of philosophy, bioethics and the general morality of the human being and, on the basis of the considerations taken, establish the most appropriate legislative path.

Fundamental rights of the surrogate mother

Surrogacy is a technique that breaks with the traditional concepts of motherhood and procreation, the main reason for which it arouses great controversy. Because of this, it is essential to guarantee the basic rights of all parties if their application is approved, since only in this way can surrogacy be considered a morally acceptable practice.

In relation to the surrogate, she must know the process and decide to intervene in it freely, consciously and completely voluntarily. For this reason, it is often a prerequisite to have gone through a previous pregnancy. Only in this way can the implications and consequences, both physiological and ethical, be known.

On the other hand, it is important that her main motivation is the desire to help a woman, man or couple to have a child. It is clear that the financial compensation you receive for gestation is a motivation, but it should not be the only one or the one with the greatest weight. This converts the argument "surrogacy exploits and uses a woman's body" into "a woman has the right to do with her body whatever she wants, as long as she does it freely and without coercion.

Ethical reflection

The new is often rejected as out of the moral when it is only outside the current understanding of most of society. However, as time goes by, scandal gives way to acceptance.

A clear example of this can be found in in vitro fertilization (IVF). In the beginning it was branded as something completely unacceptable, which attacked human dignity and bioethics. Nowadays many children are born thanks to different assisted reproduction techniques.

Science, medicine and technology advance for the benefit of society. It is good to take advantage of these advances without forgetting the ethical problems posed by many of them. In this sense, reflection should be made and only those who do not threaten human life should be allowed to do so.

For many, surrogacy should be seen as the way to new family models arising from the advancement of today's societies and as a way of solving a growing problem: infertility.

Provided that it is carried out under adequate legislation guaranteeing the rights and obligations of each party and with the required respect for the best interests of the child, advocates believe that surrogacy is a morally acceptable practice.

For their part, the detractors of this procreation method insist that surrogacy is unethical because it presupposes the commodification of the woman's body and the commodification of the minor, who becomes a merchandise subject to the clauses of a contract: the surrogacy agreement between the intended parents and the surrogate.

FAQs from users

What main ethical problems may derive from surrogacy?

By Andrea Rodrigo (embryologist).

If surrogacy is well regulated and implemented respecting the rights of the parties and the best interests of the child, moral problems are reduced. However, when it does not respond to a guaranteeing and respectful legislation, situations such as these may occur:

  • Exploitation of women
  • Cosification or instrumentalization of the female body and the future baby
  • Psychological problems in the surrogate due to the delivery of the baby
  • Serious legal consequences of breach of surrogacy contract
  • Injury or affront to human dignity

From a moral point of view, is surrogacy rather accepted when carried out altruistically instead of receiving financial compensation?

By Andrea Rodrigo (embryologist).

Many people consider surrogacy morally acceptable when it is carried out in a supportive and totally altruistic manner because they understand that this prevents the exploitation of women and is truly a free decision about the use of their bodies.

On the other hand, there are those who consider that not giving compensation to the surrogate is not fair to her, since it is acceptable for her to receive a reward for the help that she herself offers to the intended parents.

Therefore, what is more or less acceptable is something that each of us must determine from the point of view of our own ethics.

What's the standpoint of Kant's moral philosophy concerning surrogacy?

By Andrea Rodrigo (embryologist).

Kantian ethics understands as immoral that the human being is created and used for the purpose of obtaining money. However, in surrogacy, the child is not created for that purpose and, therefore, from Kant's perspective, surrogacy can be considered an ethical process, although other technical aspects must be taken into account to confirm this conclusion.

When it is said that the practice of surrogacy must be guided by ethics, then what does it actually mean?

By Andrea Rodrigo (embryologist).

Understanding ethics as the set of moral norms that govern a person's conduct, to speak of ethics in relation to surrogacy refers to the fact that none of the participants (future parents, clinics, surrogate mother...) should initiate such a complex process without being fully aware of all its medical, legal and moral implications.

Each of the parties should be prepared to assume its responsibilities in each potential situation, so that in no case will there be any prejudice to the others. Neither the intended parents nor the surrogate nor the baby should suffer in the process the consequences of a decision taken lightly.

Suggested for you

It has been commented that, in order to reduce possible ethical problems, it is essential to have adequate legislation. Each country has its own laws to regulate surrogacy, be it positive or negative. Do you want to know in which countries and under what conditions surrogacy is permitted? We tell you about it in these articles:

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References

Authors and contributors

 Andrea Rodrigo
Andrea Rodrigo
Embryologist
Bachelor's Degree in Biotechnology from the Polytechnic University of Valencia. Master's Degree in Biotechnology of Human Assisted Reproduction from the University of Valencia along with the Valencian Infertility Institute (IVI). Postgraduate course in Medical Genetics. More information about Andrea Rodrigo
Adapted into english by:
 Romina Packan
Romina Packan
Babygest Staff
Editor and translator for the Babygest magazine in English and German. More information about Romina Packan

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