Last night I saw the new Tina Fey movie “Baby Mama” about a 37 year-old, single career woman who wants to have a baby. Unfortunately her doctor claims that her uterus is poorly shaped and therefore unlikely to conceive, so she hires a surrogate. The movie itself is a comedy, but the plot line is pretty fascinating as it tackles the ethical dilemmas involved in this increasingly popular practice.
Personally, this is an issue I have struggled to categorize–is it right or wrong? On the one hand, there seems to be something inherently wrong with “renting” another person’s womb and using it to grow a baby. On the other hand, women grow babies in their wombs all the time–why does it matter if the baby is genetically linked to the surrogate or not?
Given the moral ambiguities of this issue, as well as the rising number of cases (The Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART) has tracked a 30% increase over the past three years. That number is likely an undercount, since many clinics do not report births to SART; industry experts estimate that there are as many as 1,000 surrogate births a year.) it is important that Christians think through it. What does our faith have to say about this? I would like to take a moment to examine some of those questions now…
Before delving into the murkier moral waters of this debate, there is one clear abuse that has sparked a great deal of controversy, and that is the socioeconomic background of the surrogates. Both the New York Times and the Boston Globe have reported on the practice of “outsourcing” wombs to poor Indian women. Sadly, there is a trend in the surrogacy movement in which wealthy families are using the bodies of poor, needy women to bear their children. This practice is worrying because it echoes a time in our nation’s history when the poor and marginalized were treated as property to be used, their bodies serving the wealthy as nothing more than a machine or an animal.
So while these women may, in fact, benefit from the deal financially, we should be extremely wary of any mindset that enables us to use the bodies of the poor in such a way. That is not a direction in which our society should head. But what about the cases in which the surrogates are socioeconomically “equal” to the families they help? What should Christians consider in these instances?
Even in a relationship of relative equality, the surrogate-parent relationship is frequently messy. Even if the surrogate is a close friend of the parents, it is tough to avoid treating the surrogate as some sort of incubator for your baby. In “Baby Mama,” the protagonist monitors her surrogate’s eating habits and lifestyle, forcing her to only consume those foods that will improve her health and the health of the baby. And this aspect of the film is not far from the truth–a mother interviewed in Newsweek requested that her surrogate not pump gas during the pregnancy. She also sent the surrogate green cleaning products that were safer for the child, all this to ensure that the incubator’s quality was maximized.
So regardless of the socioeconomic standing of the surrogate, the reality is that you are using another person’s body to get the life that you want. This stark reality may be softened if you have a relationship with the surrogate, or if the surrogate remains a part of the family’s life following the child’s birth, but in a very real sense parents are “renting” another woman’s womb.
That leads me to the final question–what is the difference between parents who use a surrogate’s womb to have a child, versus parents who use their own womb to have a child? Well if you’re speaking from a purely functional basis, reducing the woman’s body to her ability to conceive, then there’s no problem at all. If you can get pregnant while another woman cannot, then why not share the wealth?
But in my opinion, there is more to it than that. While the rampant cases of unwed mothers and the growing number of abortions in America have subsequently devalued the sacred miracle that is the creation of life, human life is about far more than the biological fertilization of an egg. There is more to this process than splitting cells in the uterus’ biologically hospitable environment.
On the contrary, the creation of life and subsequent nurturing of that life is to be a reflection of the Father’s relationship with us. After all, Scripture refers to us as God’s children, which means there is an aspect to parenting that reflects the essence of our relationship with God. With that in mind, the topic of surrogacy quickly becomes a question of theology.
What, then, are we to draw from such an analogy? How does the traditional pregnancy process reflect our relationship with God? Well in the same way that we get life from the loving intimacy and sacrifice of the Trinity, especially as evidenced at the cross, children are born of the loving intimacy and sacrifice that a man and wife have in marriage. And not only does a married couple love one another this way, but they love their children with that degree of sacrifice as well.
Parents essentially lay themselves down for their children, surrendering their schedules, their free time, their sleep, their finances, and even their bodies–all for the sake of their child. In fact, the physical surrendering of one’s own body that we see in pregnancy, surrendering for the sake of another, echoes the surrender and sacrifice of Christ’s own body on the cross. In this way, pregnancy can reflect a love so profound that it echoes the intimacy and sacrifice of Christ’s love for us.
Surrogacy, on the other hand, has a slightly different approach. The mother is not laying down her own body to care for and nurture the child–she is using someone else’s body. And the woman who DOES care for the child so intimately during pregnancy will then leave the child once he or she is born.
That said, surrogacy reflects the God-child analogy less fully because the parent relies on another person to sacrifice her body for their child. It would be like God saying, “I love you so much that I’m going to ask some other person to sacrifice for you.” It is this concept of using someone else for your own ends, as opposed to giving of yourself for the sake of another, that conflicts with the relationship between God and His children.
Granted, the scenario isn’t quite so black and white given that many women CAN’T have children, which means they aren’t given the option to care for a child in this way. It would be one thing if a woman used a surrogate because she is unable to have a child herself, and quite another if a woman used a surrogate solely because she didn’t want to lose her figure.
What’s more, we must be careful that my above logic isn’t taken so far as to undermine the legitimacy of adoption. Just because a woman does not bear a child does not mean she cannot have a relationship with her child that reflects the love of God. Plus, Scripture itself uses the language of adoption, so in adopting children that do not belong to us, we are mimicking God’s adoption of humanity.
What I am saying is that we must be very, VERY wary of the mindset into which surrogacy can tempt us. It not only tempts us to view other women’s bodies as objects to be used for bearing children, but it distorts the pregnancy process in a way that views children more as a biological process that simply needs an incubator, as opposed to a miracle of life that echoes our very identity in God.
All in all, I find it hard to take one definitive stance on surrogacy. I tried to think of Scripture that might apply, but I was only able to come up with overarching themes that could speak truth into the discussion, so if you know of any verses please post them. But while I am hesitant to take a hard-line stance, I will admit that I have serious concerns. While feining a value for human life by going to extremes to produce it, surrogacy can actually devalue human life, as well as undermining the centrality of marriage in beginning a family. As the movie errantly taught, “You don’t have to be married to have a baby.” That teaching might be true from a technical standpoint–I could go out and get pregnant tomorrow with some random guy off the street–but is it God’s best? No.
So before we embrace the scientific advances of surrogacy, let’s look down the road to where this trend is taking us. We may find ourselves in a place we did not intend to go. But in addition to all of that, let me remind you of how many children are orphaned in this world. The numbers are astronomical, so perhaps we should reconsider spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to reproduce ourselves through surrogacy, when there are already so many living, breathing children that need families of their own.
What do you think of this isse??