A disgrace to the rights of all women to be induced to be used as bearing slaves and a negation of the rights of many children conceived through surrogacy to be brought up by their genetic parents. Just before we started our Easter holidays and while still in the throes of ‘Panamagate’, events abroad quietly gave the lie to another of the Labour Party’s progressive ideas. On the 15th March of this year in Paris, the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe voted against a report for a Resolution (Doc. 13562) lauding and accepting surrogacy (hired women’s womb) as a means for reproduction!
In December 2015, the European Parliament voted by a strong majority to forbid all practices of Surrogacy without exception, by a large majority. In its Annual Report on Human Rights and Democracy in the World and the European Union’s policy on the matter, the position of the European Parliament is very explicit: it “condemns the practice of surrogacy, which undermines the human dignity of the woman since her body and it’s reproductive functions are used as a commodity; considers that the practice of gestational surrogacy which involves reproductive exploitation and use of the human body namely of vulnerable women in developing countries, for financial or other gain, should be prohibited and treated as a matter of urgency in human rights instruments”.
The only solution is to ban surrogate motherhood on an international level, just as the sale of children is forbidden, and to plan for criminal sanctions for offenders, especially the intermediaries. It is eminently the responsibility of the Council of Europe to guarantee instruments for defending Human Rights, as requested by the European Parliament.
In Sweden, Justice Eva Rosenberg has just issued a report calling for a ban on both altruistic and commercial surrogacy as it puts undue pressure on women to become surrogate mothers both in Sweden and abroad and little is known how it affects the children themselves. In Sweden, the legal mother is the birth mother and one wonders what would happen if a surrogate had to change her mind about the pregnancy and refuse to deliver the child to the persons who commissioned the surrogacy?
Left wing Swedish journalist Kajsa Ekman wrote to the Guardian newspaper stating bluntly that, “Surrogacy may have been surrounded by an aura of Elton Johnish happiness, cute newborns and notions of the modern family, but behind that is an industry that buys and sells human life. Where babies are tailor-made to fit the desires of the world’s rich. Where a mother is nothing, deprived even of the right to be called ‘mum’, and the customer everything.
The West has started outsourcing reproduction to poorer nations, just as we outsourced industrial production previously. It is shocking to see how quickly the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child can be completely ignored. No country allows the sale of human beings – yet, who cares, so long as we are served cute images of famous people and their newborns”?
Surrogacy restricts women’s’ freedom by surveillance and contracts to tell them what they may or may not do, where they may go and even what they may or may not eat. Surrogacy endangers the life of mothers by increasing perinatal mortality especially in third world countries where many surrogates are contracted. Surrogacy exploits women’s’ bodies as they are used for their reproductive capacities and then literally forced to disappear from the child’s parentage at birth. Many poor women even as young as 13 years old, are induced to “volunteer” by the money offered by relatively rich parents of heterosexual or homosexual orientation.
Surrogacy gives rise to innumerable legal disputes especially if the mother carrying the baby changes her mind and wishes to keep the baby, or if abnormalities of the foetus are detected and the hiring parents want an abortion to take place with the result that patronage may be withdrawn and the hired mother left alone with a disabled child to care for.
Surrogacy breaks the parentage link with the child. The parentage of the child is deliberately split between gamete providers, the surrogate mother and the intended parent(s). Thus a child could have up to six parents: the genetic mother (oocyte donor), the genetic father (sperm donor), the surrogate mother, her husband (presumption of paternity) and finally the intended parents. This is contrary to a child’s right to know and live with his or her mother and father. (Art. 7, Convention on the Rights of the Child).
Surrogacy is dehumanizing for the surrogate mother and the child. Separating a child from the one who carried him is as much of a hardship for the child as it is for the mother who has to relinquish her child. Surrogacy transforms the child into an object to be sold or exchanged. The child is the object of a contract. Internationally, surrogacy prices vary between $25,000 to more than $100,000. The contracting parties claim ownership rights over the child. These types of “mafia” networks involved in the sale of children are not only reserved for developing countries. In the United States alone, in 2011, a network involving the sale of children was dismantled. It had been organized by lawyers who claimed that the children involved had been conceived for intended parents who subsequently changed their minds.
These children were sold for $100,000. Even if there were no financial gains at issue, the individuals suffer inevitable consequences, notably psychological ones. Neither can one ignore the consequences of such transactions on the other children of the surrogate mother. Surrogacy is an international booming market segment: hundreds of clinics, agencies and young women propose their services for this practice. The annual turnover for the reproductive market in India was estimated at $ 400 million in 2011, and is now $2 billion, and $6.5 billion in the United States.
Surrogacy is also highly contrary to human rights and international law. The 1926 Convention against Slavery states: “Slavery is the status or condition of an individual over whom any or all powers attributing ownership rights are exercised”. In the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 35 prohibits “the sale of or the trafficking of children for any purpose or in any form”. According to the Hague Convention, Article 1 has the particular purpose “to establish safeguards to ensure that international adoptions are carried out for the best interest of the child (…) and thereby prevent child abduction, the sale or the trafficking of children”.
Surrogacy is also incompatible with The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, adopted on December 18, 1979, which became operative on September 3, 1981. Article 6 requires that “State Parties shall take all appropriate measures, including legislation, to suppress all forms of traffic in women and exploitation of prostitution of women”. Article 11f adds that States must ensure, “the right to health protection and to safety in working conditions, including the safeguarding of the function of reproduction”. This applies perfectly to the exploitation of the reproductive function of surrogate mothers.
No State which claims to respect human dignity should allow the official sanctioning of a legal contract the object of which is a human being in this case a child, and which involves a scheduled abandonment by the mother and a distorted and wilfully disguised parenthood of the same child.
Yet here we have it in our dear Malta, where our Minister for Equalities and the progressive Labour Government is earnestly considering legislation to allow surrogacy to become legal in order to ensure that male homosexual couples have the same rights to reproduce as female homosexual couples and male and female heterosexual couples. An inequality that does not actually exist as it does not compare like with like in functions or capacities.
I should remind the general public that in 2012, when the current Embryo Protection Act, was being enacted in Parliament by the PN and which makes surrogacy illegal, the Labour Party then too lobbied strongly in favour of the inclusion of surrogacy as a regular means of reproduction until they dropped their cause because of the impending general election and possible loss of votes. The moral chasm here was already wide and apparently visible for those who wanted to see and hear.
One should not be surprised now that we observe and hear of so many serious moral discrepancies in government by a governing body. Neither should we be surprised to see this government putting forward legislation with no moral qualms as to regulating against the true nature and true essence of man! After all, the end justifies the means and one wonders how a party which used to consider itself as having a social bearing, adopts a moral ethic that is so individualistic, existentialist and subjective in outlook!
Dr Michael Asciak MD, M.Phil, PhD, PGC in VET.