Is Surrogate Motherhood Moral?

By Pyton, Elizabeth | The Humanist, September 2001 | Go to article overview

Is Surrogate Motherhood Moral?


Pyton, Elizabeth, The Humanist


In October 1987, Pat Anthony gave birth to triplets. The infants, however, were not her children but actually her grandchildren. Nine months before, Pat Anthony agreed to serve as a surrogate mother for her own daughter's biological infants. Anthony was implanted with four embryos resulting from ova produced by her daughter and fertilized in vitro with her son-in-law's sperm. The reaction of doctors to this story ranged from astonishment to repugnance.

Surrogate motherhood and related birth technologies have continued to pose legal and ethical dilemmas. In 1989, a Progressive headline read: "Man Files Test Tube Embryo Suit"--a Tennessean divorcing his wife went to court to stop her from becoming pregnant with fertilized eggs they as a couple had put in frozen storage.

Another situation arose ten years later in Staten Island, New York. A couple announced that it would give one of its infant twin boys to a New Jersey couple because the doctor who performed the in vitro fertilization had mistakenly mingled the couples' embryos. The second boy is the biological child of the second couple, yet looks exactly like the child of the first couple.

Andrew Vorzimer, a Beverly Hills, California, lawyer, has heard of a lot of stories of unusual situations. But even he was taken aback by a client whose wife was left unconscious after a car crash; the husband said that her eggs should be "donated" in order to produce their genetic children. The hospital to which she was admitted refused the offer.

In San Francisco, California, a husband and wife used an egg donor to have a child. They then donated twelve leftover frozen embryos to Kathryn Finwall, a corporate audit manager, who then produced a child. Now Finwall and her child want to donate the remaining embryos to another infertile couple, but they are finding resistance from clinics.

In another city, a couple lined up two donors and produced twins, with each child having a different genetic mom. The donors visit for holiday dinners.

Stories of positive and negative outcomes in surrogate parenting can leave some people aroused with negative emotions--ranging from distaste to revulsion--while others would say that there is nothing wrong, in principle, with surrogate parenthood. Dictionaries define surrogate as a substitute for some third person--which in this case could be an infertile mother, father, or the missing mother or father in a same-sex relationship. The usual practice of surrogate motherhood involves a married couple who can't produce a child together and another woman who is able to do so, if her ovum is fertilized. The fertilization is accomplished by artificial insemination (that is, by the introduction of the sperm of the man into the uterus of the surrogate by other than natural means). If everything goes according to plan, the surrogate mother carries the fetus to term, delivers the baby, and gives it to the couple, who legally adopts it as its own. In this situation, the man is the biological father, the surrogate mother is the biological mother, and the married woman is the adoptive mother. The couple makes a cash payment to the surrogate in compensation for her services and to cover the medical costs that accompany the pregnancy. The term surrogate mother is somewhat inaccurate, since the woman to whom it refers is the biological mother of the baby: she supplies the ovum, carries the fetus, and gives birth. She would be called the regular mother--a term coined by Herbert T. Krimmel in his 1983 book Is Surrogate Motherhood Moral?

Infertile couples turn to surrogate motherhood as a method of having children, often with no knowledge of the fact that 20 percent of embryo transfer pregnancies end in miscarriage or don't result in a live birth. Regardless of the procedure used, for every given cycle the chances are one in five that the attempt will ultimately result in a live birth.

The United States as a whole hasn't collectively formed a conclusion as to whether surrogate motherhood should be legally allowed. …

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