Bioethics expert: Surrogacy fractures bond between parents and Creator

(OSV News) -- Marie Hilliard is a senior fellow for the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia. She holds a licentiate in canon law, as well as advanced degrees in religious studies, maternal child health nursing and nursing education administration. She and her colleagues at the center write, speak and consult widely on bioethics. In the following interview, she explains the ethical-moral issues surrounding surrogate motherhood, which have received renewed attention following Pope Francis' Jan. 8 remarks to the diplomatic corps assigned to the Holy See, in which he called the practice "deplorable" and called for its international ban.

Ann Carey: Please discuss the ethical-moral issues of surrogate motherhood first, and then the peripheral issues such as the psychological and legal.

Marie Hilliard: If you look at the ethical, moral and legal issues, they are not separate. What the church teaches is based on what we call natural, moral law: that we can know the good by what we can know by reason. We do not have a distinction between how the good should be expressed in the public arena and what is the good in terms of the moral arena. My mother had a great saying about her version of what Paul, in Romans 2:15, has told us about how certain things are written on the hearts of women and men and can be known by reason: "Sanctity is sanity."

Carey: What does church teaching say about surrogate motherhood?

Hilliard: The church has such great scholarship on this and other issues. For example, natural moral law, as it pertains to assisted reproductive technologies, is extremely well addressed in the document "Donum Vitae" ("The Gift of Life") from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (1987). In 2008, the same congregation issued further instruction on such matters in "Dignitas Personae." Such documents are an invaluable resource to couples struggling with infertility.

The church teaches that the child should be conceived as an act of love in the fruitfulness of a marriage. Further, the child has a right to be conceived through that natural act of love that demonstrates the ultimate source of love -- the Creator who establishes the laws of nature pertaining to how human life is to be engendered and life is to be lived.

Parents don't produce: They engender new life through an act of love, which is a sacred act; and they are called, as responsible parents, to love and raise that child. For this reason, we really can't separate the psychological from the legal, the moral, the physical and the spiritual. The child has every right to be engendered through that natural act of love, and the child actually becomes the fruitfulness of the love of the parents. That triune relationship between the mom, the dad and the Creator is fractured with a surrogate pregnancy.

Carey: Most surrogate pregnancies are achieved through in vitro fertilization rather than artificial insemination. What additional problems arise with in vitro fertilization?

Hilliard: After the conception of the child in a petri dish or test tube, a technician actually determines who is going to live or die. In vitro fertilization involves a selection by the technician of which embryos will be implanted in the surrogate carrier, based on grading criteria. The embryos not implanted are then frozen or killed.

Then there is sometimes what is termed "selective reduction," when more than the desired number of embryos survive implantation and the "extras" are aborted.

Here we move into psychological issues also. Imagine a child finding out that one of her brothers or sisters was sold or not allowed to live, or was frozen in time. Imagine knowing that you survived when the parents raising you had determined that two or three babies were too many, and one of your siblings was killed at the will of the parents.

That sacred bond between mother, father and Creator is fractured when a child is sold or destroyed or given away. And it commodifies life; it commodifies the woman and makes her an object, just as it objectifies the child.

Carey: Have you dealt with people who are considering surrogacy as an option for parenthood?

Hilliard: We've had people who called and were concerned about family members who were considering or had engaged in surrogacy, but, of course, all our consultations are confidential.

We do receive many calls from good people who have no idea about what is really involved in in vitro fertilization. This, of course, also is what is involved with a gestational surrogate who has no biological link to the child. What often has been erroneously presented to couples struggling with fertility issues is that the embryo, which is their child, is a "pre-embryo" and not yet a human being. Thus, these couples do not understand that the embryos that have been engendered are not only human beings, but are their children.

The whole language of the medical community denies the humanity of the human embryo: The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists defines pregnancy not to have occurred until after implantation. But there is no such thing as a "pre-embryo." From the moment of fertilization, the moment the full component of DNA is present in the fertilized ovum -- embryo -- there is a human being. Every credible biology textbook says this, but for political reasons and to be able to make the unacceptable acceptable, new language is applied to create a false reality.

Carey: What is it about today's culture that tries to make the "unacceptable acceptable"?

Hilliard: In terms of the overall nature of human sexuality, the ultimate gift of human sexuality is a new human being, and that's why we have marriage laws, to protect the new and vulnerable human life. Much of this problem is caused by a breakdown of the family that is spilling over into people choosing not to get married, or entering into same-sex relationships and thinking they have a right to a child. But a child is a gift, not a right. And the child has a right to be engendered through an act of love and raised in a home in which there is a mom and a dad. When children are engendered through technology, this is a violation of the sacred gift of creation from God.

This does not mean that children cannot do well when raised by a single parent, or grandparents, or relatives, when both parents are not able to do so. And certainly, adoptive parents, who see parenting not as a right, but as a gift, receive that gift by opening their homes and their hearts to a child through adoption.

- - - Ann Carey writes from Indiana.