Surrogate motherhood: The ethics of convenience

There has been a debate going on in Sweden over the last few days as to whether surrogate motherhood should be permitted. In following the various views I cannot help feeling that a fundamental ethical consideration is being avoided – perhaps intentionally. The Swedish Parliament’s Social Affairs Committee voted by a large – and very politically correct – majority to carry out an investigation into whether Swedish surrogacy laws should be changed.

The Local: Sweden took a step toward a possible lifting of its ban on surrogate motherhood on Tuesday, despite impassioned opposition from political parties on both the left and right.

The Riksdag’s Committee on Social Affairs voted by a wide majority on Tuesday to authorize the government to carry out an inquiry into surrogate motherhood. 
Currently, surrogate motherhood is outlawed in Sweden. 
However, the Christian Democrats and the Left Party both opposed the measure. 
“The issue of childlessness shouldn’t be solved by having women’s bodies used to carry and give birth to children for other people. Women’s bodies aren’t a commodity,” the Left Party’s Eva Olofsson told the TT news agency. 
Even if surrogate motherhood is allowed on a non-commercial basis, there is nevertheless a risk for a black market trade in surrogate births, argued Olofsson. 
She said that legalizing surrogate motherhood would send a signal that would increase acceptance of the practice that would open the door to trade with surrogate mothers in other countries, citing India as an example. 
“It’s possible that we need more regulations that would make it so that it’s not allowed in Sweden to buy a child that has been born this way in India. But that’s not how the proposal looks,” said Olofsson.

With all new medical procedures I think the fundamental ethical requirement is the informed consent of all those involved. And for surrogacy that includes the child-to-be. But much of the debate about surrogacy laws in Sweden has been focused on the “rights” of women or the gay community to have children (or not). There is more concern for the “convenience” of these groups rather than for the welfare of the would-be child.  Of course the “informed consent” of the would-be child is not available. But it should not be beyond the wit of man to consider the views the child would have – if it could.

The opposition from some to allowing surrogate motherhood is mainly based on the premise that it may encourage the exploitation of “cheap” surrogates from poor countries. (The going rate in India for example is a total cost of about $12,000 with about $7,000 for hiring the body of a surrogate mother for 9 months as opposed to a total cost of over $70,000 in the US). This argument regarding exploitation of surrogate mothers is certainly of consequence but I think it diverts from the question of the welfare and life of the child being created. It is the convenience of the “wannabe” parent which seems to be paramount. It could well be (and has been)  single parents of both sexes or gay couples or a conventional heterosexual couples hiring a surrogate mother to create a child for their own convenience.

No child chooses or can choose it’s parents. It could be argued therefore that it is not necessary to consider the unknown views of a “potential” child to be created by artificial means. But if a child could choose, I am not certain that the would-be parent hiring a surrogate mother would always be its preferred option. My perhaps simplistic understanding – which seems to be borne out by the few apolitical studies that have been done – is that from a child’s perspective and given a choice, the most preferred parental environment would always be a stable heterosexual couple. In any other parental environment – which I therefore assume to be less than ideal –  the no-risk alternative available to the child would be to be not born at all.

There is surely a place for surrogate motherhood in creating children or for abortions in terminating potential but non-viable children. Any society can create a framework of laws to permit or disallow these as they please. But laws can only reflect the political correctness of the day. I think that ethics – as distinct from law – requires that the perspective of the “potential child”  be taken into account. There is I think an ethical judgement to be made. In my mind the boundary for unethical and unacceptable behaviour is crossed when just the convenience of the parent – rather than the health or the quality of life of the would-be child – becomes the dominant parameter. This criterion applies both to “natural” as well as  “artificial” conception. And I think this criterion is valid as an ethical barometer whether it is for abortions on demand for the convenience of the mother or for the hiring of surrogate mothers for the convenience of a would-be parent.

In  all  “artificial” procedures for conception of a child or for the termination of a foetus the question that I think must be addressed much more explicitly is:

Would the “child” consent to the procedure?

Would the would-be child which is to be created or terminated choose to be born or not?

It is not the answer to the question but the avoiding of the question which is unethical.

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