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Surrogacy: A problem of human dignity

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Please watch this disturbing video, a chorus of innocent newborns crying as they wait to be delivered to their destinations. How can we remain silent in the face of these disturbing images? These are infants without an identity, who have been denied the experience of their mothers’ voice, smell, and welcoming arms – or even just being able to turn to their mothers when they are hungry.

Any decent human being will find this highly disturbing. Yet BioTexCom, a leading center for infertility treatment and human reproduction in Ukraine, released it to assure the clients that the products, i.e., babies, are in good hands and will reach their “destinations” as soon as the border restrictions due to COVID-19 are relaxed.

When the video was released on YouTube recently, there were forty-six babies waiting to be delivered. Since then, the number of infants in the facility has increased to fifty-one – so “production” is continuing. The babies are born of surrogate mothers in a reproductive clinic currently located in the Venezia Hotel in Kiev.

Among the services BioTexCom offers to clients is a large bank of egg donors and surrogate mothers. This is what the center promises:

Each day we examine up to 200 candidates who want to donate their eggs, and only 20 percent of them meet our strict requirements to prospective egg donors’ physical and psychological health, age, having at least one healthy child restriction, and of course – pleasant appearance. Our donor base has an outstanding advantage – you have an opportunity to choose a donor on your own. Thus, you are provided with her photos, video interview, and 3D photo on which you can see your donor from different angles. Our donor base is one of the largest in the world. It enables us to start a program just after signing of a  contract with no wasting time on searching for a donor.

Since the fall of the Iron Curtain, Ukraine has become a surrogacy destination for people from Western Europe and the United States. Couples or singles from Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Israel, Great Britain, America, and other countries travel to Ukraine to “order” a perfect baby.

In a strange way, it’s quite logical. Women from the industrialized West have “outsourced” making babies; they can economically support children but do not wish to or cannot carry a child physically. For this they turn to Ukraine and other poor countries in Eastern Europe, to women with strong uteruses to carry and deliver babies.

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The legislative vacuum created after the fall of Communism allowed commercial surrogacy to be legalized in Russia and Ukraine, and agencies and law firms turned it into a lucrative business.

According to a European Union study on surrogacy in the EU member states, would-be parents typically paid 30,000 EUR  (about $33,000) to a Ukrainian law firm “to order” a baby.

The Catholic Church is not taking these insults to human dignity lightly. Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kyiv-Halych, head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, and Archbishop Mieczyslaw Mokrzycki of Lviv, president of the country’s Latin-rite bishops’ conference, have appealed to the Ukrainian government to put an end to the “double crime of renting wombs,” which has become a plague in Ukraine.

Treating human beings as goods to be ordered, produced, and sold is a severe violation of human dignity. The bishops’ appeal hit the nail on the head: the double crime of surrogate motherhood violates the rights of the children and the dignity of women, who for various motives – especially economic hardship – are forced to sell their bodies and motherhood.

Surrogacy is an offense against women; how can you “rent” the body of another human being? And how does paying the rent make you a parent? Motherhood is not merchandise and should not be for sale. The bond between mother and child is forged at conception in the womb; no one has the right to break that bond.

Pope Francis has spoken clearly (Amoris Laetitia, 54) against the exploitation of poor, third-world women: “History is burdened by the excesses of patriarchal cultures that considered women inferior, yet in our own day, we cannot overlook the use of surrogate mothers and the exploitation and commercialization of the female body in the current media culture.”

People want to “have it all,” but there are limits to what that may mean. God has put limits in place for our benefit. There are things that are extra commercium, they cannot be bought. Children are gifts with their own inherent dignity – rather than goods one has the right to purchase on the open market.

The Catholic Church has consistently taught that human life is sacred because, from the moment of conception, it involves the creative action of God and remains forever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end. No one should play God and produce human beings in reproductive centers, exploiting disadvantaged women. In 1987, St. John Paul II approved the Instruction on Respect for Human Life in its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation which specifically speaks of surrogacy:

Surrogate motherhood represents an objective failure to meet the obligations of maternal love, of conjugal fidelity and of responsible motherhood; it offends the dignity and the right of the child to be conceived, carried in the womb, brought into the world and brought up by his own parents; it sets up, to the detriment of families, a division between the physical, psychological and moral elements which constitute those families.

St. Mother Teresa, who spent all her life in mission serving the poorest of the poor in India, might offer a solution to surrogacy as she did to abortion: “I will tell you something beautiful. We are fighting abortion by adoption – by care of the mother and adoption for her baby. We have saved thousands of lives.” Maybe the same can apply to surrogacy – we can fight the disorder of surrogacy by rediscovering adoption.

 

*Image: Louise Nursing her Child by Mary Cassatt, 1898 [Fondation Rau pour le Tiers-Monde, Zürich, Switzerland]

Ines A. Murzaku

Ines Angeli Murzaku is Professor of Church History at Seton Hall University. Her extensive research on the history of Christianity, Catholicism, Religious Orders, and Ecumenism has been published in multiple scholarly articles and five books. Her latest book, edited and translated with Raymond L. Capra and Douglas J. Milewski, is The Life of Saint Neilos of Rossano, part of the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library. Dr. Murzaku has been featured frequently in national and international media, newspapers, radio and TV interviews, and blogs.



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