FRONT PAGE CONTRIBUTOR
The abandonment of Gammy and the immorality of surrogacy
A confused story is developing from Australia where a couple is alleged to have abandoned their child, conceived via a Thai surrogate mother, after discovering that the child had Downs Syndrome.
The facts seem (I emphasize the word “seem” because there is a lot of disputation between the surrogate and the parents over nearly every issue) to be that an Australian couple contracted with Ms. Pattaramon Chanbua to act as a surrogate and bear their child. Presumably the couple was infertile but who knows. Ms. Chanbua who was married, impoverished, and deeply in debt received approximately $16,000 for her services. As it turned out, twins were conceived. One, a girl, was born without incident. The other, a boy named Gammy, was born with a congenital heart defect and Downs Syndrome. Ms. Chanbua alleges the couple ordered her to have an abortion when the defects were discovered – she refused – and the couple took possession of the girl, leaving the boy with the mother/surrogate. Naturally the Australian press is covering this in the best British tabloid fashion which meets everyone is looking perverted and corrupt.
The story, though, serves as a warning to us as morally neutral technology is introduced into a society, like ours, which is increasingly unmoored from any moral or ethical consideration more complicated than “I wanna.”
It is one of the interesting paradoxes of an age in which a presidential campaign pivoted on the issue of whether the U.S. government should pay the freight for homely women to have consequence free sex outside wedlock are the industries built around creating children for people, married or unmarried, homosexual or normal, who are either unable to conceive or find the process of childbearing icky and inconvenient.
For a married couple desiring children, being unable to conceive is a tragedy. It is not unsurprising that in a culture where “fairness” is a fetish that the resources would be devoted to finding ways to artificially accomplish what nature could not. Unfortunately, when a child is conceived outside the old fashioned way, and especially outside wedlock, a child is reduced to the status of a commodity. The authority parents have over the child ceases to be administered in a way that is in the best interests of the child and takes on the character of a property right. If the facts in this story are as reported, then Gammy was treated like a defective product, not like a child.
Not only does surrogacy commodify children, if commodifies women. Regardless of the source of the sperm and egg, the fact remains that a woman carries and nourishes the child throughout the gestational period. Whether she is paid or not, whether or not a contract exists the woman is essentially leased for the term of pregnancy. Typical surrogacy contracts include a clause which instructs the surrogate/mother to not develop a relationship with the child:
The terms of the pregnancy contract demand of the mother not merely certain behaviors, but engagement in the emotional labor of distancing herself from her child. Standard pregnancy contracts require her to agree not to form or attempt to form a parent-child relationship with her child. What if, despite her initial intentions, she finds herself coming to love her own child? The commercial surrogate mother industry and the commissioning parents assert the authority to interpret this development as an immoral act – a broken promise, a betrayal, and a threat to the commissioning parents – and to insist that the mother view her love for her child in this way as well. This is a violation of her autonomy.
Though the story of Gammy has a lot of visibility now the story is by no means unusual. For instance:
A surrogate mother from Colorado has been hit with $217,000 in medical bills after delivering twins for an Austrian couple who have fled the U.S. with the children.
Carrie Mathews says she nearly died delivering Rudolf and Teresa Bako’s children in July after suffering severe complications.
And despite an extensive contract between the families, including the Bakos’ payment of medical fees, Mrs Mathews says health care officials are demanding the sum while the Bakos refuse to pay what they owe her.
Surrogacy is a popular option for couples struggling with infertility. But what happens when the biological parents decide they no longer want to keep their child? Susan Ring, a gestational carrier, was left with twins when their birth parents abandoned them during the surrogacy.
Crystal Kelley learned five months into her pregnancy that the child she was carrying on behalf of another couple may be born with disabilities including a cleft lip and palate, a cyst in her brain and heart defects.
After discovering the unborn baby’s condition, the intended parents said that they no longer wanted the child and told Miss Kelley that she should have an abortion, saying it was “more humane” and even offered her $10,000 (£6,600) to terminate the pregnancy.
Miss Kelley, however, did not believe in abortion and refused. The couple said that they would instead take the child but immediately put the baby into foster care.
Also opposed to this, Miss Kelley, who was to be paid $22,000 for the pregnancy decided to move 700 miles from her home in Connecticut to Michigan, one of only a few states in the US where a surrogate mother’s legal right to decide the child’s future would trump those of the parents and find adoptive parents for the girl.
Cathleen Hachey’s first try as a surrogate mother took a heartbreaking turn when she was abandoned via text message last spring, 27 weeks into the pregnancy she’d initiated to help another couple start a family.
The young New Brunswick stay-at-home mom was carrying twins for a British couple. But three months before Hachey’s due date, the couple declared their marriage had ended and they would not be coming for the babies.
The theme is clear, the surrogate/mother and her child are routinely treated as commodities and without the basic human dignity owed one another.
Though the process is heavily regulated on paper, there are huge loop holes. Sometimes poorer nations simply can’t be concerned about a street vendor being paid by affluent Westerners to bear their child. The surrogacy arrangement in this story is illegal in Thailand and commercial surrogacy is illegal in Australia though it is perfectly legal for Australians to find a commercial surrogate outside Australia. Some countries, like India, are very friendly to commercial surrogate arrangements.
In 1987, the Catholic Church addressed the question of surrogate childbearing. In Donum Vitae, or the Instruction on Respect for Human Life in Its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation
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.
No matter how attractive the packaging, the immorality of surrogacy is a life issue as surely as abortion.